Dirty Projectors are one of those bands that people often pretend to like just to sound cool and edgy – but usually without having any real understanding or appreciation of the music. Dirty Projects can be quite frightening to listen to if you used to ‘normal’ rock music. This band is far from normal.
They are the project of Dave Longstreth, a former Yale student who quickly rose to a quiet acclaim for his unique singer/song writing sounds. He released three albums under his own name before bringing out The Glad Fact in 2003 which was the first to bare the Dirty Projectors name.
Many members of the band have come and gone over the years but, for now at least, they seem to be finally stabilised which is perhaps why Rise Above is being touted as the most focused piece of art the band have ever produced.
Rise Above is a re-imagining of Black Flag‘s seminal 1981 record Damaged, a hardcore rock album which was ranked as number 340 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time. Oddly enough, David Longstreth attempted to rewrite his favourite adolescent album word for word from memory – even more bizarre is the fact that David claims not to have even heard the album for over a decade. This might explain why even those familiar with Damaged could listen to Rise Above and have no idea what the source material was.
Picture if you will, the Backstreet Boys bringing out a Christmas cover version of Slayer‘s God Hates Us All. Imagine them standing on stage in leather and long hair, belting out such hits as Here Comes the Pain and only then will you be able to see how wrong this whole concept is.
It may well be wrong but to Longstreth’s credit it actually works rather well. He adds a poignant, almost whimsical quality to Rollins’ harsh often naïve lyrics. Under Longsteth’s lead the short, angry shouts of protest become long and winding highly melodic and delicate tapestries of music with just simply beautiful three-part vocal harmonies.
The stand out tracks on the album are Police Story, Depression and especially What I See, which is a cheerful, bouncy tune that sounds like summer time until the break comes in the middle and the music stops and you realize they are singing, “I want to live/ I want to live/ I wish I was dead.”
The album is difficult to listen to at first and in some places is rather frightening. This band is doing new things in music and taking rock to a new place and it is meant to be challenging and obtuse. Like all great albums though it grows on you with each replay. You discover things you had not heard the first time around. It is brilliant, daring and worth spending your precious pounds on.