It’s only been a little over a year since Dirty Projectors dropped their last album, 2017’s self-titled release, yet David Longstreth’s project is back again. It’s not difficult to see why such a quick turnaround way opted for; Dirty Projectors was met with mixed reception, due to the huge shift in sound it presented, swapping out colourful indie rock for downbeat R&B, as well as its uncomfortably personal lyrics. Charting the deterioration of Longstreth’s romantic relationship with former band member Amber Coffman, the album didn’t really hold back when it came to emotional ugliness.
Personally, I thought the album was Dirty Projectors’ strongest effort to date. While it was far from being perfect, the album’s strong points more than outweighed its weak ones. The production was absolutely fantastic in places and the lyrics – while a little cringey at times – felt a lot more honest and powerful than the ones on the project’s older albums. My opinion was everyone’s opinion though and, when examining the direction Longstreth has taken on this new album, it’s not hard to see that he took some of those criticisms to heart.
On Lamp-Lit Prose, Dirty Projectors takes an almost complete U-turn. Moody electronic R&B beats are traded off for colourful live instrumentation, bitter break-up lyrics for ones about new love and Longstreth’s singular, isolated vocals for a range of guest stars. It’s a return to Dirty Projector’s old sound, basically – which is both a good and bad thing. While the album is a lot less gutsy and ambitious than Dirty Projectors, it’s also a lot more fun to listen to… I mean, I’ve pretty much had it on repeat since it came out.
Lead single ‘Break-Thru’ is an easy standout. It took me a few listens to get into the track (at first sounding a bit like an overstuffed mess; Longstreth leaves no breathing space in the song, piling on layer after layer of instrumentation) but it’s since grown on me. It’s a sweet and catchy love song with a killer central guitar riff and some characteristcally goofy Longstreth lyrics, with everyone from Federico Fellini to Julian Casablancas getting name-dropped. It’s a real earworm.
The album’s other two singles are similarly solid. On ‘That’s A Lifestyle’, Longstreth addresses politics and consumerism while still managing to pull together a catchy hook, while ‘I Feel Energy’ is an all-out jam with an almost gospel edge to it. Both songs have a classic Dirty Projectors vibe to them and honestly wouldn’t have felt out of the place on one of the band’s few albums preceding their self-titled one.
And despite Dirty Projectors essentially being a solo project now, their sound has never been so rich. These tracks are filled to the brim with gorgeous instrumentation, with some trumpet flourishes here and a bit of harmonica there. The rich range of instruments featured allows even the album’s musically weaker songs to shine. Additionally, Longstreth’s vocals, while still very much an acquired taste, have never sounded better. I particularly love his falsetto freak-out at the end of ‘I Feel Energy’.
‘Blue Bird’ is the only the song I really dislike, with its nursery rhyme-like melody and lyrics that veer too far into sappy territory. Luckily, the album’s weaker moments like this one don’t detract from the overall experience too much, thanks to it only being a brisk ten tracks long, clocking in at just under forty minutes. Lamp-Lit Prose isn’t trying to be something big and dramatic like Dirty Projectors, it knows what it is: a fun and quirky indie rock album.
While I’m still not totally sold on the band’s stylistic U-turn with this album, Lamp-Lit Prose is hard to dislike. It’s not particularly adventurous and it can be argued that it doesn’t do anything that the band haven’t done better on past releases, but it’s still a lot of fun. And maybe that’s all some albums need to be.
Best Tracks: ‘Break-Thru’, ‘That’s A Lifestyle’, ‘I Feel Energy’.