My best friend in college introduced me to the widely acclaimed indie band, Dirty Projectors, early in the first semester of my sophomore year. As I do with the majority of artists that are recommended to me by an outside source, I decided to do some research on the band. To put it simply, this band is an amalgamation of voices and tones that are unique and unconventional. The album that was given to me was their 2012 hit, Swing Lo Magellan. Quite frankly, the first listen weirded me out. The audible decisions that they made (ranging from symmetrical guitar/vocal riffs to their almost whiney proclamation) were quite jarring. But upon re-listening (and re-listening) I found a kind of singular value in the manner that the band approached their music. They wanted to be very distinct and took huge risks to do so. They are not some run-of-the-mill indie performers; they are the real deal, and the critics raved about their latest project.
Interestingly enough, I diverted away from their music for a while. This happens with any album, even those that I find to be tremendously engaging. Music is all about experience. And as we grow and we go through more experiences in our lives, our musical tastes change. This would explain my love for a band like Maroon 5 when I was in high school and my utter disdain for their musical projects now. Nonetheless, I began to listen to other artists and Swing Lo Magellan gathered dust on my iTunes playlists. However, I found myself wanting to return to this album last night after watching Game 4 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals between the Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers. If you know me at all you’ll know that I am a huge basketball fan. And though I am no analyst (as many of my ex-Twitter followers will tell you), I have been watching the game and its many great players my entire life.
While watching this game (and this entire series) I found myself intrigued with the way the Pacers squad is assembled. The NBA has become a small-ball<!--[if !supportFootnotes]--><!--[endif]--> league. The Heat are a team that plays the small ball lineup, one in which a power-forward is 6’8 or below and the center is less than 7ft tall (or there is no center at all). With the advent of the big man that can shoot the midrange jumper, teams have been able to boost their offensive proficiency and play a quick, hounding, defensive game. This is the Miami Heat strategy. The Pacers are intriguing because they have decidedly contradicted this model. Each member of their starting five is quite tall for their respective positions (Roy Hibbert is a bonafide GIANT at 7’2) and their defensive numbers prove that this team is a force because of it. However the Pacers, for all of its defensive prowess, hardly gets any television time. This is partly because the team is in Indiana and because there is not much drama coming from names like Paul George and Roy Hibbert (the names themselves almost scream boring). Because of the lack of exposure during the regular season, the viewing public outside of Indiana cannot truly come to understand their genius: the smart coupling of Roy Hibbert and David West is hardly discussed, the emergence of Paul George as a two-way superstar was understated during the regular season, not to mention their stingy, league-leading defensive presence. It is only during the playoffs, when casual basketball fans are watching this team over and over again, that their capabilities are appreciated by a national viewing audience.
It is this realization that brings me back to Dirty Projectors’ Swing Lo Magellan and provides insight to the reasons why many basketball lovers are also music lovers. Bands come together using any resource that they have. When a pianist, vocalists (both male and female), a bassist and drummer come together, there is a kind of synergy that takes place between them. Another, less conventional, model makes the analogy much clearer: a violinist, vocalist, drummer, pianist and bassist come together to form a band and make music together. Basketball and musical creation are all about using the talents of each member to their greatest potential while highlighting the unique skills those respective members exhibit. The talents that Hibbert bring are much different from the talents that George Hill brings. The talents that David Longstreth (the lead vocalist and guitarist for Dirty Projectors) brings to the fore are much different from Olga Bells (vocals, keyboards). But their synergies create an indelible sound, ripe with ingenuity. The visible and audible evidence is fairly clear. If we were to inject a Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies (a defensive specimen in his own right) in the Pacers rotation, we could be almost positive that the lineup would not work right away. The same could be said for any singular crooner that we inject in a band like the Dirty Projectors.
There is great value in uniqueness. We praise artists like the Beatles, Bob Dylan, and Elvis for providing listeners with varied sound that make us question the extent to which music has the ability to weave our own experiences into a holistic narrative. With vast ranges of musical expression, listeners are able to couple their own experience with the progression of music. In a very similar way, the wide varieties of talents that are exhibited in basketball every night are a testament to the various realities players and fans have. My experience with Michael Jordan is hugely different from my experience with Kevin Durant (who, by the way, is my favorite player in the league). Despite these differences though, there is a common language shared by basketball fans and music-lovers alike.
Re-listening to Dirty Projectiles last night was quite the occasion. I sipped cold water and let the tones fill my small space with irregular guitar strings and ghastly exclamations of Unto Caesar (one of my favorite songs from the album based on sheer silliness and depth), and others songs that brought me back to the first few days of last semester. Though Roy Hibbert and David Longstreth will probably disagree with me, the brilliance of basketball and music are found in their subtleties, the behind the scenes work and the strategies that are put forth for each performance. These are aspects of the game and of the band that are integral to their respective successes. Both the Pacers and Dirty Projectors in their own peculiar fashion have re-focused our gaze and our souls on the intricacies of their worlds and our eyes and ears have never shined brighter.