Dirty Projectors is an American experimental indie rock band which has gone through numerous lineup changes since 2002 and of which guitarist and singer Dave Longstreth is the only mainstay. Their latest offering Lamp Lit Prose follows hot on the heels of their 2017 self-titled album. Lamp Lit Prose is eclectic in nature and diverse in sound, offering an incredibly dense experience – with multitudes of varying percussive elements, harmonisation, stereo guitar performances and thick electric pianos.
“Right Now” doesn’t exactly start the album in the best manner, but it certainly introduces new listeners to the disjointed and inventive style of Dirty Projectors. The song transitions from a complex folk riff on a deep acoustic guitar to some sporadic and jarring brass hits, interwoven with a pulsing keys line. Occasional piano embellishments and a recurring flurry of hammers and pulls do make for a dense sound, but the slow pace and pseudo-electronic elements sadly hurt the track. An underwhelming solo section further compounds what the track is lacking. While the arrangement, vocal performances and harmonies are fairly impressive, the song itself functions more as an introduction to the forthcoming experience, rather than a great song in its own right. What’s also evident here from the very outset is the group’s polished production style. In a digital era in which many alternative artists seemingly preference vintage tones, on Lamp Lit Prose, as was the case with their self-titled LP last year, Dirty Projectors instead aim for an overly ripe, commercial sound with vocals very much front and centre.
First single “Break-Thru” is probably the best pick of the bunch, with an insanely catchy electric guitar riff, harmonica, intergalactic synth warps and a short string section. While the song doesn’t really go anywhere, the Arcade Fire-esque vocal delivery, paired with a bouncy and vibrant guitar makes for a memorable performance. While the lyrics at times verge on pretentious, overall the song pulls together well and rewards on repeat listens – combining the concept of a partner being a ‘break through’ with a sophisticated and solid instrumental.
“That’s A Lifestyle” served as another single and again opens with some fingerstyle acoustic guitar, bright and full in sound. It immediately recalls “Temecula Sunrise” from the outfit’s superb breakthrough album Bitte Orca (2010) in its atmosphere and style – indeed, given it’s in the same key, it could be considered a reinterpretation of the same song. The lyrics are a definite strong point, with the striking cry of “the monster eats its young” and other lines being more politically charged than usual. The solo section on guitar is performed in a similar manner to that of “Dance For You” (2012), albeit in a more heavily effected way, almost reminiscent of a 60s rock solo. The high-energy ending is slightly awkward, with a distorted pattern of solo guitar abruptly being introduced and fizzling out, but the overall track is more than decent. The following cut “I Feel Energy”, featuring guest vocalist Amber Mark, isn’t nearly as memorable – consisting of an 80s samba-influenced electric pop beat with layered percussion and prominent brass. A lush string coda again reminds listeners of the group’s previous outings, to the detriment of what’s being presented this time around.
“Zombie Conqueror” is a heavier track, opening with another fingerstyle acoustic part, this time dropped down to a low C. The song soon picks up pace and aggression, incorporating an exciting build to a throbbing main phrase. With its distorted guitars, scattered licks and a drum part reminiscent of “Offspring Are Blank” (2012), the track is a welcome trip into the more anthemic side of Dirty Projectors. A sightly polyrhythmic chorus is also incorporated, ensuring the cutting-edge style of the band is still projected. The song especially shows off Longstreth’s vocal range, with other members also contributing to a deep and soothing vocal harmony.
“Blue Bird” is more of a poppy ballad, again featuring a heavily panned keyboard sound. The song is in quite an odd measure, seemingly 6/8 at times but always accenting unexpected beats and carrying various measures over bars. The song does feature tired lyrics such as “you and me, me and you”, which are equally as uninspiring as the following track. “I Found It In U” features a Thin Lizzy-esque chord progression and a guitar solo very much reminiscent of “And Your Bird Can Sing” by The Beatles. Indeed, the lyrics “a birdsong that they’re singing to me,” perhaps serves as a nod to that very song.
Track eight, “What Is The Time” opens with an awesome bass and drum groove before the trap-style rhythm runs into a slow, four chord ballad. The song grooves in a similar way to a Vulfpeck track, with a great chorus progression and a plethora of passing chords, but the song is undermined by the unnecessary modulation at the end. The next track, “You’re The One” is another slow ballad. Featuring Rostam and Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), it’s fine but far from memorable.
“(I Wanna) Feel It All” falls more into the lounge genre, with some reversed sampled drums and pan flutes lulling the listener into a warm, smoky escape. Some tremolo-effected strings add heavy ambience, as do the soft and effortless vocals on the track. Its lazy performance oozes cool and has key changes which are similar to that of King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s Sketches of Brunswick East (2017). Saving arguably the most avant-garde track until last will likely prompt many listeners to question what could have been, had the group instead elected to open with this number and performed other tracks such as “You’re The One” and “I Found It In U” in a similar vein.
Overall, while Lamp Lit Prose provides an enjoyable listen, many longtime fans will likely be disappointed by the continued attempted move into mainstream commercial appeal, with a polished production style serving as a departure from their much stronger earlier releases. While an evolution in sound is to be expected over time, a recycling of old ideas on many of the tracks only begs the (impregnable) question, is Dirty Projectors’ best now behind them?