Quickly following the dark ruminations of break-up album Dirty Projectors, Lamp Lit Prose arrives as the performance-friendly chirpy younger sibling, ahead of tours, festival dates and a (fingers crossed) hot summer. Not as groundbreaking as earlier releases (though, in fairness, Dave Longstreth’s project has pretty much broken it all already), the album fails to perfectly balance the heady tastes of a new romance, leading to the occasional grate of cloying twee. Though mostly reliable, Lamp Lit Prose panders to bigger markets and loses the unique spark that kept fans onboard.
However, of course, that draw for many is the idiosyncratic writing style of Longstreth, which has gone nowhere. Firmly in place are the quirky flourishes and deliberately convoluted riffs; gone is the considered and deft hand which previously curated such curios. Left to lollop in his happiness, Longstreth has let the quality slip and irksome tracks find their way onto the tracklist, such as when he takes on Timberlake’s damp-pop crown with the bothersome funk of ‘I Feel Energy’.
Let it be known: this is not a bad album. ‘Zombie Conqueror’’s cutting riffs and dextrous melodies recall the best of breakthrough album Bitte Orca and ‘I Found It In U’ masters the balance lacking elsewhere, grounding the overblown lyricism in hypnotically complex percussion and taut guitars. ‘Blue Bird’’s melody is memorable in the best ways. Closer ‘(I Wanna) Feel It All’ is as close to speak-easy as Dirty Projectors will ever (hopefully) get, stitching together a gorgeous woodwind arrangement with digital beats and upright bass. The track’s breakdown is intriguingly coarse.
Ironically, the only balance that the album does master is between quality and disappointment. Lead single ‘Break Thru’ is a dated grab at the mainstream despite Longstreth’s best efforts, coming off as a mawkish Paul Simon tribute. ‘What Is The Time’ stoops to a cringe-inducing key change over chirpy pianos. One can only assume the overegged guest features – Syd, Amber Mark, Empress Of, Rostam, Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and Dear Nora all appear – is another shot at the charts.
The beauty of a Dirty Projectors song comes in the nuance of its composition: the beat in a song where the melodies finally unlock, or the back-and-forth harmonies contributing further to already complex rhythms. Whilst there are brief moments of subtlety, it’s unfortunate for Lamp Lit Prose and its audience that Longstreth chooses to paint in broad strokes so often. An inconsistent album with moments of brilliance, a push for mainstream acceptance will be painful for longterm fans and will fail to reach its target. Lamp Lit Prose might be the happier alternative to Dirty Projectors, but ultimately, is inferior in every other way.
LAMP LIT PROSE BY DIRTY PROJECTORS IS OUT NOW VIA DOMINO.