Lamp Lit Prose
Domino Recording Co. · July 13, 2018
In 2017, David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors gave us a bitter, emotionally wrenching record with the band’s self-titled ninth LP. This year, with Lamp Lit Prose, he’s retained some elements from the previous record, but partially returned to form with a much more cheerful feel and material that will be far more comfortable for Swing Lo Magellan fans. While the record is certainly decent and very enjoyable, it lacks the consistency that either of the last two LPs had, with a noticeable drop almost exactly halfway through the album.
The first track, ‘Right Now,’ is a nearly perfect introduction to the album, making the mix of old and new Dirty Projectors – and the happier mood – evident right off the bat. Syd of the Internet is featured, albeit with a slightly disappointingly small role. The beginning is quite simple, with just Longstreth’s elegant voice and pared-down guitar as lighthearted piano and blaring brass are added in. On the chorus, Syd’s voice cools down the tension created by Longstreth’s slightly strained singing, and 808 triplets with mild electronic vocal effects give the hook a more updated feel than the first parts of the song. Some lyrics are surprisingly dark at times (“The sky has darkened, earth turned to hell” … “I don’t know how I’m going to be a better man”), but are offset by a sort of hopefulness in others (“I don’t know how I’m going to get you to take my hand / But I’m going to try and I know when” … “There was silence in my heart / And now I’m striking up the band”). Some of the sadness of the previous record remains, but overall we’re being pulled towards a happier Dirty Projectors, both in the song and on the record as a whole.
One of my personal highlights is the second track, ‘Break Thru,’ with pleasantly harsh synth blares interrupting the charming light guitar. With lyrics so millennial that I have to believe they’re self-aware (“Just hanging out all Julian Casablancas” … “But she keeps it 100 in the shade”), it’s a fun and attention-grabbing summer song. The mixed-too-loud synth, which completely cuts off the guitar as the verses begin, lends a sense of urgency and discomfort that satisfyingly contrasts with the rest of the song, which, on its own, might have risked being cloying.
After the peppy ‘I Feel Energy,’ a funky feel-good tune with backing percussion reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Got To Give It Up’ and very sweet vocals from Amber Mark, and the head-banger ‘Zombie Conqueror,’ with Led Zeppelin-esque folky guitar and celestial harmonies from Empress Of, the album takes a noticeable dive in energy. Aside from the fun but stressfully frenetic ‘I Found It In U,’ the second half of the album feels very slow and redundant. To be fair, there was not a track on the album that I thought wasn’t at least decent, and I’d even say that any of the tracks are quite good as standalones. However, with a long string of pretty, mellow tracks (‘Blue Bird,’ ‘What Is The Time,’ ‘You’re The One,’ ‘(I Wanna) Feel It All’), they all start to blur together to create a noticeably less interesting listening experience than the first half of the album. The very last track, ‘(I Wanna) Feel It All’ is probably the quietest of all, making the album almost fade out rather than have a solid end, which would have been much more intriguing had I not become jaded by all the slow songs that preceded it.
Despite the frustrating drop-off halfway through Lamp Lit Prose, it’s still a great collection of tracks. Longstreth continues to show his artistic ability both through himself and through his tastefully curated feature list. After the emotional black abyss that was the previous record, it’s incredibly satisfying and fun to experience Longstreth and Dirty Projectors blooming once again. Give it a listen, but maybe put the record on shuffle the second time around to fully enjoy the songs further down the track list.