Pop music should not be this hard. And while Dirty Projectors is not quite pop music, on Lamp Lit Prose the indie rock act at times sounds like a band that is courting mass appeal, even if that’s not the story at all.
The Brooklyn outfit has made its most-accessible album – a record that reaches for quasi-pop heights and often reaches them with some success – while simultaneously delivering a fatiguing work. While Lamp Lit Prose shaves off some of the polarizing elements of previous LPs, it still requires an inordinate amount of patience and resolve to digest. The lighter sonic elements here do not erase the strain required to listen to – much less process – this album.
“Change is the only constant law,” Dirty Projectors mastermind Dave Longstreth sings near the end of Lamp Lit Prose. “I’ve seen some springs, and I’ve seen some falls.”
Last year’s self-titled album was widely seen as a break-up record, following Longstreth’s split from partner and bandmate Amber Coffman. If Dirty Projectors was a tough fall, then Lamp Lit Prose is a warm but dizzying spring.
The pop whirls are plentiful. “Break-Thru” is Tune-Yards smashed with Paul Simon circa Graceland. “That’s a Lifestyle” has a big sound and a hip-hop sensibility. And “I Feel Energy” is a snappy summer song with a falsetto hook, peppy horns, and a jittery instrumental bridge. Those are just some of the big “pop” moments of Lamp Lit Prose.
Elsewhere, Longstreth gives fans “Zombie Conqueror”, a pummeling, awkward rock song that would easily slide into the Mars Volta’s catalog. The muscular, sinewy guitars – while out of place on an album like Lamp Lit Prose – are a welcomed change and somehow serve as a respite from the iHeartRadio pop-sounds straining.
Another detour – albeit a less-appreciated one – is “(I Wanna) Feel It All.” It’s an unnerving track, with a weird layering effect and a stress-inducing apex delivered in the form of a scream. That’s the last recording on Lamp Lit Prose, and a taxing end to the madness.
Being challenging always has been part of the equation for Dirty Projectors. This is a band, after all, that recorded Rise Above, a full-album tribute to Black Flag’s Damaged LP. The thing is, combining some overt pop sounds with the standard-playbook (for this band) disorienting vocals and studio wizardry isn’t merely challenging – it’s disorienting and, here, sometimes frustrating. Fatiguing is not an ideal descriptor for the listener experience.
Why should an album with this many pop music appeals be so difficult? It’s as if Longstreth wants it both ways: the giant, crowd-pleasing sound (as demonstrated on head-nodding tunes like “Break Thru” and “That’s a Lifestyle) and the intense, polarizing moments (as felt when listening to “(I Wanna) Feel It All”). The surface boldness of the art cannot make up for how exhausting this record is to consume. Lamp Lit Prose is not for the faint of heart.