Dave Longstreth is on a madcap quest for personal and political salvation on his latest album, reviving a more hopeful, chipper kind of songwriting of his past.
Last year, the least visceral artist in indie rock slung his guts on the table. Dirty Projectors cataloged the shrapnel of Dave Longstreth’s breakup, enshrining his memories in indie-rock, hip-hop, and whatever other styles took root. What came out was a record so calculating and emotionally ugly that Longstreth found it impossible to tour behind. Instead, he tinkered with a follow-up, Lamp Lit Prose, which backgrounds first-person narratives and revives a more hopeful, chipper kind of songwriting.
Whether it’s a convincing renaissance isn’t quite the right question, because, as ever, Longstreth is firing in every direction at once. Political specters loom—“The sky has darkened/Earth turned to hell,” the album begins—and in their shadow, the redeeming possibilities of music and love overlap until the chorus of tragedy, defiance, and relief resolves into triumph. On opener “Right Now,” flanked by cavalry brass, Longstreth wails, “There was silence in my heart/But now I’m striking up the band!” It’s a dual statement of purpose, reintroducing live instruments to his core setup and, more broadly, rebuilding the ruins of his collapsed group, love life, and nation.
It’s a bold project, this madcap quest for personal and political salvation. But when Longstreth throws caution to the wind, Lamp Lit Prose is wonderful. “Ask now, I’m in love for the first time ever,” he chirps on “I Found It in U,” a lyric just naive enough to transmit the dumb sparkle of lust. After a few verses hopping between radio-rock guitars and assault-course percussion, he alights upon another beautiful lyric: “All the painful dreams I failed to extinguish/Were the footlights down dark aisles I’ve taken/Now they’ve led me to you.”
How remarkable, then, that such an adroit student of romance could also have written “Break-Thru,” a lead single that heaps superlatives on a “deadpan, unimpressed” character who Longstreth apparently covets for her inscrutability alone. She’s a “breakthrough, an “epiphany,” and “no one can lock her down,” he sermonizes, landing somewhere between the language of love and a tech symposium. Paired with nods to Archimedes and Julian Casablancas, this is perhaps Longstreth’s idea of a grand narrative, splicing old and new culture to suggest that love, in its first flush, feels epochal—historic as much as personal. But it’s hard to sympathize with a narrator who spends so much time concocting romantic riddles and so little articulating the selfless magic of devotion.
To his credit, there are no such problems elsewhere. While deeply impressionistic, Lamp Lit Prose inverts its predecessor’s emotional black hole, largely thanks to its revival of airy Bitte Orca-style compositions and a pick’n’mix guest list. Perfect harmonies congregate in dark corners: Empress Of lends primal headbanger “Zombie Conqueror” a supernatural gravity; Syd calmly anchors “Right Now”’s wildfire optimism; an imploring Haim leaven “That’s a Lifestyle”—a catchy lament for the crumbling empire—and Robin Pecknold and Rostam gather around for some open-heart balladry on “You’re the One.” “We wholly depend on our hope and love, received and sent,” Longstreth sings, sincerely, on “I Feel Energy,” and the philosophy bears out in the record’s spirit of collaboration.
For all its grandiose anxiety, the most rewarding moments here boil down to a simple reprieve: love and art can empower the meek to stare down the apocalypse. “Soon the Earth may dissolve like snow/We’ll meet again in the air, all bound to glow,” Longstreth sings under a pirouetting 12-string riff on “Right Now,” a blue-sky vision of nuclear armageddon. The recently heartbroken have a tendency to overstate the transformative power of love, not least in times of crisis. But it’s infectious to hear Longstreth on this strange honeymoon, persevering until lust or terror wins out.
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