Producer, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist David Longstreth, the creative visionary behind Dirty Projectors, returns with a new album, Lamp Lit Prose. Adding to a wildly varied catalogue, this is their ninth release and comes with collaborations from Syd, Robin Pecknold, Rostam Batmanglij, Amber Mark, Empress Of and Dear Nora, and was recorded at Longstreth’s new studio, Ivo Shandor, in Los Angeles.
Ever since David Longstreth and his brother put together an album in 2002 called The Graceful Fallen Mango, Dirty Projectors have indulged in quirky song arrangements: a combination of lo-fi and hi-fi production, while consummating a long love affair with r’n’b and urban soul, albeit wrapped up in a panoply of styles that includes African, electro, EDM, and new wave.
Longstreth is obviously a playful, rather distinctive soul who has over time recorded batches of songs about the Eagles’ Don Henley, and re-imagined Black Flag songs, two bands near the polar ends of the rock spectrum, spanning soft rock to hardcore. Longstreth is also somewhere on that spectrum, albeit where exactly is not possible to pinpoint, as he glides effortlessly from the serene to the bombastic. Nor is it worth bothering with. Instead, you are invited to marvel at the work of this artistic explorer, an excellent and multi-layered guitarist in his own right, aided by his long term rhythm section of Nat Baldwin and Mike Johnson. For sure, his work often does not gel, nor satisfy in ‘classic’ fashion, where fluidity is the key. It is all too easy to mistake eccentricity for genius, but Longstreth’s pop-minded prog exercises more often than not hit the mark.
The largely solo album of 2017 came across as a catharsis for Longstreth, with bitterness and emotional turbulence swirling around the dark ambience following his spilt with longtime fellow key guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Amber Coffman. This time there is plenty of light, colour, and warmth, Longstreth’s kaleidoscopic approach proving largely irresistible, as he wallows in the glow of new found love.
Lead track ‘Right Now’ features Syd (singer with The Internet) and quickly re-establishes Dirty Projector’s trademark adventurism: mandolin sitting surprisingly comfortably with r’n’b vocal, a nu-soul aesthetic, electronic drums, cheap sounding keys and some late-song brass. Sounding like a Heston Blumenthal ‘meatfruit’ recipe for disaster on the surface, in the hands of Longstreth it is skilfully woven into a unique and contemporary tapestry.
The love song ‘Break-Thru’ continues Longstreth’s penchant for African-style guitar, and again meets head-on his soul-funk falsetto, and hard Toddy Terry-style beats. While ‘That’s A Lifestyle’ blossoms via complex guitar acoustica, before a slow beat and complex harmonies kick in a la Eagles/Crosby, Stills & Nash, while the song title ‘I Feel Energy’ matches the African-brass-funk-soul delivery, like a Michael Jackson out-take circa 1980, and bookended by some inventive pad work and playful strings. Meanwhile, ‘Zombie Conqueror’ is more of an old-fashioned and harsher prog venture, with multiple guitars dominating this live feel of a song. ‘What is the Time’ is a looping urban soul foray, and the harmony-drenched ‘You’re The One’ features both Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and ex-Vampire Weekend Rostam Batmanglij, lending their larynx’s to this short and sweet acoustic guitar number.
There are missteps along the way, most noticeably ‘Blue Bird’s cloying nursery melody a al Paul McCartney, but where Longstreth’s musical quirks have often come across as calculated, here they come off as spontaneous and lively improvisations; a harmony-rich a capella moment here, an in-yer-face guitar solo there, and all manner of musical paraphernalia and instrumentation employed liberally and seemingly randomly. It’s all there on the closing track, the jazzy flavoured meets Pet Sounds-esque ‘(I Wanna) Feel it All’, a culmination of Longstreth’s re-acquaintance with a lust for life, both in a musical and personal sense: “I wanna feel it all, August’s light, February’s pall / Thrill to the rise and rue the fall, I wanna feel it all“.