Just 18 months have passed between Dirty Projectors’ last album and Lamp Lit Prose, a rapid turnaround which frontman/Projector-in-Chief Dave Longstreth puts down to his decision not to tour in support of the release. Looking back, it’s easy to see why. An excellent, but often uncomfortable break up record, detailing the end of Longstreth’s relationship with former bandmate Amber Coffman, Dirty Projectors’ every word, every sound – all the grossly pitch-shifted vocals and dense, twisted r’n’b – seemed to pine for lost love and seek salve for wounded masculine ego.
Fleetingly, though, the closing I See You reflected reconciliation and a way forward: “Time passes away/There’ll be other lovers/Forward and into it/Future imagined by neither of us”. And that’s where we find Longstreth, on a record suffused with all the brightness and intimacy the lamp-light of the title might suggest.
Very quickly, we realise that, as much is its predecessor bore the impacts of the loss of both lover and bandmate, perhaps the keenest absence we felt as listeners related neither to the personal nor the personnel. It was those meticulously arranged, disjointed, playful elements of the Projectors’ sound – with tightly harmonised, punctuative female vocals – that had made high watermarks like Rise Above, Mount Wittenberg Orca – recorded with Björk – and Bitte Orca such joys.
And they’re back in spades. “I don’t know how I’m going to be a better man,” Longstreth sings on the opener, setting the tone. “But I’m going to try … Now/Right now.” High, picked acoustic guitars strum and tumble, syncopated horns stab and guest vocalist Syd (The Internet) both adds and brings out the tracks sweetness and warmth. It’s the first of numerous guest spots on the album; not only have Dirty Projectors become a band again – with the addition of multi-instrumentalists Maia Friedman, Felicia Douglass and Kristin Slipp – but LLP is peppered with guest vocals. HAIM feature on That’s A Lifestyle, adding laminated sunshine to a song about the dark arts of lifestyle-as-brand, brand-as-lifestyle where gorgeous, ornate acoustics give way to Fripp-ishly toned electric soloing. L.A. dreampopper Empress Of adds vocals to Zombie Conqueror, one of the most self-consciously ROCK songs in the DPs catalogue, while the Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough brass and percussion-led groove of I Feel Energy heaps layers of Amber Mark around Longstreth’s falsetto.
Here, as on That’s A Lifestyle, the positivity is tainted (“Are we fundamentally alone in the universe?”), and he seems to question his right to feel quite so happy again when everything else is on fire: “What entitles you to live again? The world’s about to end”. Longstreth might not be in the place he was on Death Spiral, or Winner Take Nothing, but he’s still realistic.
Lamp Lit Prose may have arrived quickly, but it sounds as though Longstreth has made leaps and bounds from the self-titled album’s more solipsistic, self-piteous moments. Towards the end, positivity and simplicity win out, along with a surprising – given the baroquely knotted musical strands – lyrical clarity.
On the earlier Break-Thru, Longstreth describes the subject of the song (or possibly songs) as having “features on Fellini”, and being “Deadpan, unimpressed/Archimedes Palimpsest … hanging out all Julian Casablancas”, but by I Found It In U he’s saying simply “I have such a rad time with you/Any thing we do it’s ‘whatever…’/That’s why I love you”.
The similarly direct, pellucid You’re The One is a short, sweet trio for tenors – featuring Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes) and Rostam – but (I Wanna) Feel It All – a swooning and opiated big-band jazz closer, featuring Portland’s Dear Nora and more of the warm horn arrangements which made the last album’s Up In Hudson such a delight – might say it best: “I wanna feel it all, August’s light, February’s pall/Thrill to the rise and rue the fall, I wanna feel it all”. The last album was such a darkly compelling set that it’d be wrong to frame Lamp Lit Prose as a ‘return to form’, but it’s perhaps a return to the light, to uneasy listening of a different sort.