Dirty Projectors’ 2017 self-titled LP was an unapologetic, occasionally off-putting breakup disc detailing the fallout of frontman Dave Longstreth’s split from former Projectors’ guitarist Amber Coffman. It was understandable how little filler there was, given the circumstances; by transgressively thumbing his own wounds instead of devoting himself to his more typical pursuit of some ambitious musical conceit, Longstreth fashioned a record tighter and more discomfiting than any Projectors release prior. Even its title felt pointed, with Longstreth making it clear what he’d held onto amid the separation (to wit: the opening track was titled “Keep Your Name”).
Lamp Lit Prose, arriving a year and a half later, suggests that Longstreth is about where most of us would be after such a timespan: more centered, with a spring back in his step. Described in a press release as “the yang to the yin” of Dirty Projectors, Prose is most conspicuously a return to the sun-dappled guitars and looping, ornate harmonies that characterized past releases. The ten uniformly upbeat numbers here are dedicated to those glimmers of hope that sneak through our blue periods, reassuring us of their impermanence.
Opener “Right Now” segues from a storybook-lullaby opening (“The sky has darkened, Earth turned to hell/Some said a light got shined where darkness dwelt”) into an array of dense Jon Bellion-esque pitch-shifting, triumphant brass backing, and breathy female vocals (from Syd). More than a few tracks — among them the choirboy’s love letter “Blue Bird” and giddy Amber Mark collab “I Feel Energy” — are, if taken autobiographically, direct odes to more recent romances, with Longstreth reveling in the kinds of everyday wonders that only fully reveal themselves to a bruised romantic on the mend.
Written by lamp-light or not, Longstreth’s prose remains his most idiosyncratic asset here, whether he’s shambling toward midnight on rock-adjacent cut “Zombie Conqueror” or taking an abstract political stance on “That’s a Lifestyle” (“‘Cause the monster eats its young/till they’re gone, gone, gone”). In the span of just a few endearingly strange verses, “Break-Thru” flits between references to Fellini, Fauvism, and the Strokes’ frontman Julian Casablancas, while also finding space to name-drop either Kanye West’s fashion venture (Longstreth collaborated with West on”FourFiveSeconds”) or Pablo Picasso with the hyper-hipster proclamation, “Her line is Pablo but her color is Fauve/so what about it? Just to review, she will break-thru.”
Much of Lamp Lit Prose feels like Longstreth settling back into his groove, overloading tracks with intricate instrumentation and arch lyrical flourishes, showing that he’s lost less of his flair for ebullient, heart-first quirk than those listening to Dirty Projectors may have feared. Like all great sentimentalists, he even saves the best for last, revealing “(I Wanna) Feel It All” as a plaintively gorgeous swirl of woodwinds, strings, and vocals (including some by indie-pop crooners Dear Nora) that starts as a murmur before swelling for a crescendo cathartic enough to warrant its title’s touchingly human request. If Dirty Projectors was the band’s long winter, the sonic equivalent of holding space within which their frontman could probe and process, Lamp Lit Prose is the resultant progress, a gratifying spring bloom bearing the sweeter-than-expected fruits of Longstreth’s labor.