Dirty Projectors' New Reality
“It’s a cricket,” Longstreth explains earnestly.
“Oh,” I say. “A cricket?”
“Yeah, a cricket,” he says a little more loudly.
“Hm,” I nod.
But before I can convince myself that a cricket is some strange Bjorkian Ableton plug-in, Longstreth explains, “She recorded this movie on her iPhone of a Japanese cricket chirping and sent it to me. It just worked with the song.”
Lamp Lit Prose comes 18 months after the Dirty Projectors’ seventh, self-titled album — their first release since Longstreth and long-time band member Amber Coffman’s public break and her subsequent departure on a solo career. That record was concept-driven, meditative, and read so widely by the media as a “breakup album” that it seemed as if iTunes would have to change the record’s genre tag from “Alternative” to “Breakup.” After that album was put out in the world, Longstreth was ready to move on. “I was never gonna tour on the self-titled album because it would be depressing. It would be difficult.. The self-titled record has an arc to it. It starts out pretty salty and emotionally devastated, but bends towards forgiveness, redemption. I thought performing it night after night…” Longstreth looks down at his drink. “I was just ready to be done with it.”
The bar we’re at is projecting old Buffy episodes on the wall, and we’re constantly taking breaks from our conversation to comment on Buffy’s outfits and exploits. As I’m asking Longstreth what genre he thinks the record might fit into, Buffy sparks a match off of one demon’s ear and lights his monster friend on fire. “Lighting a match off a demon’s ear,” Longstreth says, turning back to me. “That’s the genre.”
Which, honestly, makes sense. Lamp Lit Prose is full of flashing indie music bops — the kind that propelled Dirty Projectors into a higher stratosphere of fame when they released “Stillness is the Move” nearly a decade ago. “It’s sort of an anti-breakup album,” I think out loud, and Longstreth agrees. It’s what you write after you’ve been holed up in your Netflix dungeon for a month crying and eating sour straws, then finally decide to go out in the sunlight. There’s no definable narrative, no arching conceptual framework; instead, we’re offered wildly upbeat tracks that Longstreth describes as “extroverted and uplifting.” Recorded with the help of collaborators like Syd, HAIM, Empress Of, and, of course, Bjork’s iMessages, Lamp Lit Prose is easily consumed, (sometimes overly) airy, but filled with the weighty, poetic lyrics that Longstreth has become well-known for.
The most engaging aspect of Lamp Lit Prose isn’t the features or twisting melodies or even cricket mp3s, but the layered vulnerability of Longstreth’s voice. Having written for Solange on A Seat at the Table, Kanye on "FourFiveSeconds," Joanna Newsom, Bombino, and Grizzly Bear, Longstreth can pinpoint what another musician’s project needs to perfectly come to life (Bjork has lauded him for his “almost psychic ability to write for other voices”). However, Longstreth admits to me that he is sometimes “reluctant to write music that would belong in [his] own voice,” that he feels he has a “blind spot for what that is or would be.” And you can hear that on Lamp Lit Prose — not in the sense that his vocals are half-formed or somehow incomplete, but that when he delivers a note, it is with careful, incendiary precision.
On standout track, “That’s a Lifestyle,” Longstreth sings, “And the monster eats its young / till they’re gone, gone, gone / Till it's satisfied and done / It wants blood, blood, blood.” When I ask Longstreth where he drew inspiration for the lyrics, I expect him to bring up Godzilla or Beowulf, but instead, he explains that the song is about “the reality of life in America and systemic violence, and legislated oppression.”
I push him — “Do you think all of the tracks are political?”
“I mean, yeah,” he says. “Art inevitably interacts with politics and culture. Of course, all this stuff was around before Trump. But he’s put a really disgusting face to it. By and large these songs are just about connecting with the stuff you believe in. The stuff that gives me positivity and heartens me. Gives me hope.”
In the background, Buffy rams a stake through a vampire’s heart and laughs. She’s kept the monsters at bay — at least until the next episode — and suddenly the photographer has to whisk Longstreth away for their shoot. Lamp Lit Prose is starkly bright music for a morally vacuous moment in society. It can’t defeat any Trumpian bloodsuckers, but it might cheer you up a bit as you sit on the subway, glowering at the old dude across from you who’s wearing a blood-red MAGA cap.
Lamp Lit Prose is out July 13 via Domino Records.