After the harrowing self-doubt and heartbreak of ‘Dirty Projectors’, David Longstreth emerges into the light of hope and new love on ‘Lamp Lit Prose’.
It has been a little under a year and a half since David Longstreth, the wizard behind Dirty Projectors, blessed us with one of the more harrowing break-up albums in recent memory. Mid-summer 2018, as five planets are in retrograde or whatever and humans are freaking out, he drops Lamp Lit Prose. An album that at once is an extension of the narrative arc started on the self-titled record that preceded it, an inversion of it, and somewhat a return to the more uppity, rhythmically disjointed, acoustic instrumentation of their critically-lionised records like Bitte Orca.
In a little over a year, the world has seen more emotional, publically-broadcasted insanity than one can afford to hold in their memory, and the world of music managed to start, disregard, and then rediscover at least five new pop music trends. In that same time-frame, Longstreth has seemingly gone through an entire emotional arc of his own. If last year’s Dirty Projectors wailed in glorious auto-tune of regret, memories so saccharine they’re actually torturous, and the temporal nature of everything you cherish, Lamp Lit Prose resounds with ecstatic joy, the search of hope in darkness, and new-found, naïve-as-ever love.
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Not to say the album is unaware of what came right before, or the inherently political landscape it falls into now, it just chooses to paintbrush over all of it with impatient guitar slides, harmonised vocal lines, and percussion that’s restraining itself from speeding up at all times. And good for Longstreth too – one can only take so much bleakness.
His usual song-writing strengths remain – breaking up rhythmic and melodic structures in ways that make no sense and total sense at the same time, consistency in the tracklisting and pacing of the record, instrumentation choices that’d be hard to find anywhere else other than on a Dirty Projectors record. The lack of restraint from pretension when it comes to the lyrical side is also as present as ever, but at this point that seems to be a characteristic one should expect going into anything written by the former Yale University attendee.
Opener ‘Right Now’, starts off with an easy-going folksy guitar and the words “The sky has darkened, earth turned to hell”. Before the listener can get confused about the juxtaposition of Longstreth’s pleased vocal inflection and the lyrics, the song turns towards a sentiment of self-improvement and hopefulness towards what the future might entail. The simplistic chorus is aided by singer/songwriter/producer Syd, who lends her effortlessly smooth and laid-back vocals.
One of the strengths of Lamp Lit Prose is the excellent and vast list of collaborators. You have HAIM on ‘That’s A Lifestyle’, possibly the most overtly political, yet not any less uppity, track on the record. Recent newcomer to the R&B scene Amber Mark on ‘I Feel Energy’, the song striving for that coveted ‘The Tastiest Brass Section on an Indie Song’ award, where she holds down her own subtle harmonies while Longstreth reaches for a note so high it’s practically leaping up towards the great celestial experience of the universe. Not to mention other vocal contributors such as Empress Of, Dear Nora, and Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes. It’s as if half the current music community got behind the idea of latching onto attained-with-great-difficulty moments of happiness, rather than bitterness, saltiness, or whatever the negativity of the week is.
Lead single ‘Break-Thru’ is perhaps best at setting the tone of the entire record. In it, Longstreth obsesses over the exact kind of girl you’d expect Longstreth to have a schoolboy crush on. She’s “Deadpan, unimpressed / Archimedes Palimpsest / Just hanging out all Julian Casablancas”. All of this over the aforementioned guitar slides, a harmonica (no joke), and a Vampire Weekend-like riff that has no business being as catchy as it is. “Underneath the sun, there’s nothing new / But she keeps it 100 in the shade” Longstreth reminisces, and you feel genuine happiness for him and his new manic pixie dream girl. Hope is real and hope is good. Even if romanticised.
Lamp Lit Prose is a breath of fresh air, a new page, and a ‘New Year, New Me’ start for Dirty Projectors. It might not catch off guard with its weirdness, consistent sorrow, or innovative ways of using the same tools that forlorn hip-hop artists have used for a decade that could only come from Longstreth’s production back catalogue in the same way the previous record did, but it’s nonetheless an excellent and true-to-form addition to the Dirty Projectors discography, that inspires happiness in the face of gloom and celebrates the rebirth of positivity. (8/10) (Ellie Wolf)
Listen to Lamp Lit Prose by Dirty Projectors here via Spotify, and tell us what you think below!
Tags: album, David Longstreth, Dirty Projectors, Domino, Ellie Wolf, Lamp Lit Prose, review
Currently studying Mathematics and Music at Leeds University. Generally a fan of all things musical, cultural, and pretentious. Values aesthetic way too much.
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