Since their inception in 2002, Dirty Projectors have undergone a multi-stage evolution from charmingly freaky lo-fi balladry, to orchestral experiments, to rhythmically glitchy compositions of juxtaposed sounds, and beyond. The band has reached a new stage on their latest album, Lamp Lit Prose. Dirty Projectors’ fourth studio album, 2005’s The Getty Address marked the introduction of ideas most fundamental to their current sound, which features the glitchy rhythms, spooky vocal harmonies, and unconventional percussion found on most of their work thereafter, including Rise Above (2007), an album consisting of outlandish interpretations of Black Flag songs. A factor in the ever-evolving sound of the Dirty Projectors could be their constantly shifting lineup, with the only consistent member being founder David Longstreth. Past members include (but are far from limited to) Rostam Batmanglij of Discovery, Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, and Jenn Wasner of Wye Oak.
Last year’s self-titled album featured an unusual amount of hip-hop influence. I might even go so far as to call it Kanye-esque; lyrics on the album’s third track, “Up In Hudson,” even reference Kanye and Tupac. Compared to Dirty Projectors, Lamp Lit Prose feels like a more natural companion to the rest of their more recent discography. It’s got all of the charming qualities of their previous works: soothing male-female vocal harmonies, occasional pitch-shifted vocals, bright and deft acoustic guitar riffs, and unsuspected combinations of strange timbres. What feels different about this album is its catchiness; it’s not as challenging to listen to as albums like Morning Better Last! and The Getty Address, and I think part of this comes from a decreased emphasis on the more experimental elements that carried through from The Getty Address forward: fewer glitches, less dissonance, and a more pop-oriented palate of sounds. Indeed, Lamp Lit Prose is a shift in the direction of pop for the Dirty Projectors, and it’s accomplished without sacrificing their creativity, a rare feat for musicians.
One of the album’s singles, “Break Thru,” is probably the album’s catchiest track, and is held together by an orgasmic synth hook. Just listen to its sticky texture and I’m sure you’ll know what I mean by “orgasmic”. The album’s gently grand opener, “Right Now (feat. Syd),” welcomes the listener into the latest stage of the Dirty Projectors with more of a hint than a blunt declaration that the band have molted. The guitar-fuzzy “Zombie Conqueror (feat. Empress Of)” gets nice and loud with a bright and sunny bridge into a chorus that has real attitude. A warm organ colors the verses of the slow “Blue Bird,” whose chorus grows into Longstreth’s self-harmonies backed by deep swells of what sounds like a tuba and a percussive collage that leaves nothing to be desired. “What is the Time” sounds like a Vulfpeck tune – in a good way, of course. The Dirty Projectors have successfully landed another solid record – and, despite its eclectic mélange of musical styles, it’s even aux-cord-friendly! Intelligent pop music, if you will. Its Jolly Jolly Jolly earworms are the type that just might improve your day to have stuck in your head, making it one of the best releases 2018 has yielded us. — KYLE WEINSTEIN