"Read the book before seeing the movie" is some of the most annoying yet valid advice in existence. It's about context, something the rock 'n' roll weirdoes of Dirty Projectors offer in bunches in their new short film, Hi Custodian. A companion piece to their intricate 2012 album Swing Lo Magellan, the 20-minute film falls short of the grand ambition of movies like Purple Rain but offers more insight than a standard music video. Written and directed by frontman Dave Longstreth, it adds another dimension to Magellan. It's worth watching before the band stops by the Majestic Theatre Sept. 29.
One could argue that Hi Custodian is just a collage of strange, often funny imagery set to the band's newest music. And seeing a bikini-clad car-wash crew stop soaping up a Prius to hose down a bandaged man on crutches is great even without any subtext. The film does deploy a loose narrative about spiritual death and rebirth, which lends some direction to Longstreth's confounding lyrics. The style of the movie - shot like a '70s grindhouse film and set for maximum psychedelic effect, much like Alejandro Jodorowsky's WTF machine The Holy Mountain - says a lot about the aesthetic the band had in mind for the album.
Although Magellan is a less challenging listen than Dirty Projectors' previous albums, it's tough to find a character arc in the lyrics. "Hi Custodian" provides a fairly concrete story, a physical journey that matches the spiritual one. Plus, its California backdrop offers a suitable setting to prop the songs up against. It keeps viewers from wondering where in the world this kind of music comes from.
One scene shows the band crammed into a moving truck with backup musicians, holy men and the beach-ready car washers. Longstreth and company smile as they play "About to Die" for this motley crew. In addition to telling a story, the film shows how much fun these musicians have together. This bodes well for their live show.