Last year’s self-titled LP recast Dirty Projectors as Dave Longstreth’s one-man-avant-pop-band. This suggested two possible blueprints going forward — the other branded on 2009’s Bitte Orca by the gorgeously ping-ponging vocals of his former bandmates Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian. For Lamp Lit Prose, Longstreth melds both strategies in a flood of ideas and magnificent vocal arrangements. The results are by turns dazzling and exhausting.
Partly it’s is an issue of balance. The best moments of Bitte Orca and Swing Lo Magellan are at core collective. Here, the spotlight stays on Longstreth, despite an all-star cast of guests. On the opener, “Right Now (feat. Syd),” the sly singer from r&b subversives The Internet voices only the word “now,” in prismatic harmonies, while Longstreth works through soul-man gestures over a polyglot web of stringed instruments and atomized horn bursts alternate between baroque and Stax-Volt. On “Break-Thru,” over braying electronics, Longstreth praises a fine woman in a falsetto that seems ghosted by air-quotes. And while he deserves props for rhyming “Archimedes’ palimpsest” with “Julian Casablancas,” it begs the question of what poetic imperative might necessitate that.
Surprisingly for such an original thinker — though understandable for a dude with concept albums informed by (respectively) Don Henley and Black Flag under his belt – the highlights here come across as witty but felt abstractions of classic rock and pop. “What Is The Time” is a giddy conjuring of Philly soul. “I Feel Energy” conjures Michael Jackson’s makossa-conjuring “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin,'” ornamented by talking drum tones, handclaps, yelps and guitar-god shrieking that’s more Adrian Belew than Eddie Van Halen. “(I Wanna) Feel It All (feat. Dear Nora)” is wildly outfitted old-school balladry, with smoky ’50s noir jazz horns, Nelson Riddle string abstractions, Renaissance recorder ensemble flourishes, a warped doo-wop display, and deliciously incongruous digital-production slights-of-hand.
Best of all is “That’s A Lifestyle,” with its clear prog-rock debt to Close To The Edge–era Yes, a rueful meditation on the unmaking of the American Experiment over a gorgeous web of guitars and bright backing vocals by Haim. “Who’ll stop putting quarters upon our eyes/Who’ll not place himself higher than we for a senator’s price,” he wonders, while the subjects of the song shake themselves out of their artisanal weed haze just enough to shout some objections to the status quo while scrolling through protest curations on their social media. It’s the sound of smarts working overtime, like the whole set, but grounded in something deeper than aesthete swagger.