Lamp Lit Prose Gets to the Point

Per Eric Slick, "Be less conceptual and more direct."

The year was 2006. I was reconnecting with Dominic Angelella, a UArts graduate who would later become my best friend and musical soulmate. We hadn’t spoken in about a year. I dropped out of college to tour with Adrian Belew of King Crimson. Dom was performing under the moniker Dragonzord. We talked about new bands often. Dom pulled out his laptop and said, “Have you heard Dirty Projectors?” He played the track “Imagine It” from the New Attitude EP and I listened intently. He told me it was the brainchild of David Longstreth. It was an amalgam of my own fascinations—Prince, K Records, Afrobeat, Zeppelin, a hint of Wagner—but it also had an avant-garde edge that was informed by a compositional training. It was the same feeling I get when I discover something I love: excitement, a deep twinge of jealousy, obsession, and eventual parroting.

Lamp Lit Prose is the newest album from Dirty Projectors, and in my eyes, a neatly tied summation of Longstreth’s manifesto. This is most the ebullient and energized Projectors I’ve heard in quite some time. The opening track “Right Now” struck me as a Nashville Skyline pastiche with pentatonic twelve-string guitars interrupted by brash horn blasts. Syd’s call-and-response chorus vocals wrap around the urgency of Longstreth’s “Right Now.” It echoes the glitchy stems of 2005’s The Getty Address.

Next is the lead single, “Break-Thru,” which had me reaching for my encyclopedia with the highbrow “Archimedes Palimpsest” drop and a nod to impressionism with, “Her color’s Fauve / so what about it?” There’s a Julian Casablancas namecheck. Can all of this esoterica live under one umbrella in a song about the well-worn topic of love? The more I thought about it, their breakout single “Stillness is the Move” featured heartfelt quotes pulled from Wim Winders’ arthouse masterpiece Wings of Desire. Getty Address’ protagonist was D. Henley (yes, a reference to the fucking Eagles, man). Rise Above is a subconscious rendering of Black Flag’s iconic Damaged. Their nom de plume is intrinsic to their mission statement: snippets of pop culture are consumed and regurgitated into the fresh and unexpected.

Iconography is just as vital to Longstreth’s vision. The album art continues the interlocked blue and red bubbles first found on 2009’s Bitte Orca, albeit transposed over a scattered bouquet of weedy flowers. Prose feels to me like the logical sibling sequel to Orca. I still find myself struggling to find the meaning of the logo, but then again, I had to Google a “Sierpinski Triangle” when it was emblazoned on my first Rise Above-era Dirty Projectors shirt. I appreciate when an artist is intentional about the aesthetic connections that form in their work. I can imagine Prose standout “That’s a Lifestyle” as an advanced companion piece to 2009’s “Temecula Sunrise.”  A bright, spiny D-major figure (“Temecula” is in the same key) is held together with low, dry drums and some inventive rhythmic vocal panning between headphone channels. It contains my favorite chorus of the whole record:

Cause the monster eats its young
Til they’re gone, gone, gone

If “Temecula” represented a potential utopia in the light of Obama-era optimism, “Lifestyle” is the crushing reality of the Trump we’ve been dealt. They are prologue and epilogue to me, two sides of the impossible coin of our humanity. Perhaps the blue and red yin-yang bubbles represent this Jungian duality? Have the bubbles become an allegory for our divided red-and-blue states?

This may sound utterly stupid, but I’m also feeling a real Beatles influence on Prose. I recognize that the B word is sometimes frowned upon in the music community; my band Dr. Dog has to fight off Beatles comparisons with every new release. Even when I show my solo songs to the aforementioned Dom Angelella, he always says, “Ah, that’s a Beatles chord change.” Another standout track, “I Found It in U,” has a un-quanitizable guitar line that sounds like a broken version of the “And Your Bird Can Sing” harmony line. It reminds me of Longstreth’s quote about Bjork’s process: “She writes these classic melodies but breaks them apart so that it’s sort of up to you as the listener to put them back together.”

The closing track, “(I Wanna) Feel It All” has a gorgeous “Real Book” melody that has a kinship with Getty Address’ “Tour Along the Potomac.” It begs the question: How much of your own musical DNA are you trying to strip away in order to make progress in your own craft? A lot of Prose feel like fully realized versions of ideas Longstreth has been working on since 2003. Is it a conscious decision? Self-reference is encouraged in Longstreth’s universe—materials are renewable, recyclable, compostable. (“Keep Your Name” from 2017’s Dirty Projectors even contains a Dirty Projectors sample from “Impregnable Question.”)

Longstreth’s lyrics may have occasionally felt colder in the past, but there’s a stunning lightness and vulnerability to songs like “Blue Bird.” It almost has a McCartney-esque campfire singability to it.

You and me
Me and you
Something sweet
Something new

I felt this wind of change on the last eponymous release. We’ve adopted a similar mantra in Dr. Dog: Be less conceptual and more direct. Prose is an album of songs. It’s not a novel. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a refined complexity to everything the band possesses. It just seems that beneath of all of the complexity is a simpler message. With Dirty Projectors, the arc was built around the very personal dissolution of a relationship. It was a good record for the darkness that accompanies self-analysis . Prose is ultimately a spring record, a warm and hopeful chanson to lift us up despite our collective nihilistic spiral.  Political records are just starting to permeate the market right now, but Prose is not heavy handed. It’s a record about falling in love, dystopia, and hope in the face of darkness. It makes me feel the same way I felt when I first heard the band: excitement, a deep twinge of jealousy, obsession. I can’t wait to go write some music.

Eric Slick play drums for Dr. Dog. He’s also one-third of the Philly noise punk band Lithuania. Eric has also performed/recorded with Adrian Belew, Nels Cline (Wilco), Daniel Rossen (Grizzly Bear), R. Stevie Moore, Cass McCombs, Gordon Gano, and Ween. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

(Photo credit: Shervin Lainez)