Track by Track is a new music feature in which an artist guides us through each track on their latest effort.
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Sure, it was a bummer that Dirty Projectors fans couldn’t see the experimental pop outfit tour on last year’s self-titled release after frontman Dave Longstreth decided to mostly keep it to tape. The good news, though, is that Longstreth was productive as hell during the time that would otherwise be consumed by the open road. A little more than a year after their previous album, the band is back with Lamp Lit Prose, a collection that, despite returning to the bright, buoyant guitar pop of Dirty Projectors’ heyday, Longstreth describes as a natural progression from the previous record’s surprisingly dark tone and electronic focus.
“Making the last record. I wanted to throw out everything that I felt that I knew and had developed about making Dirty Projectors records,” Longstreth tells Consequence of Sound. “It’s not a nihilistic record. It’s not a bitter record. But, you know, there are some tough moments on it. I think, though, that the record has an arc and it’s an arc that ends in a kind of hope. Hope and an affirmation of the idea of love.”
The new record, then, dovetails nicely from that ending, as Longstreth says, “These songs, for me, are about finding their way back into a place of optimism.” They make it there, too. Lamp Lit Prose is, as its title implies, warm and literate, with Longstreth’s brainy, peripatetic style manifesting in tight, approachable songs that exude color and celebration.
There’s a communal nature to it as well, not just in the big band instrumentation, but also in its A-list supporting cast. HAIM, Empress Of, The Internet’s Syd, Amber Mark, and Dear Nora all lend guest vocals, as do Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold and former Vampire Weekend member Rostam, who both appear on “You’re the One”. Björk, a previous collaborator of Longstreth’s, also makes her mark, as the album was able to make use of the sound of a Japanese cricket she passed his way.
Stream the entirety of Lamp Lit Prose below via Apple Music or Spotify.
While on the band’s summer tour, Longstreth sat down with Consequence of Sound to give a Track By Track breakdown of the album, in which he discusses his process, his collaborators, and just how he used that cricket. Check out what he had to say below.
“Right Now” (feat. Syd):
I think of it almost as a George Jones song, coming from a little bit of a down place but seeing things in the sense of how they could be and what they could be. In terms of production, I was actually really inspired by that song–Aloe Blacc singing over that Aviici song [“Wake Me Up”]? It’s such a crazy song, just the way it jams together what you might generously call, you know, country music with that EDM style. Bringing those two worlds together is just so ambitious of those creators. With “Right Now” I wanted to do that, but where the verses maintained that sort of George Jones quality; it’s acoustic, but it’s coming from a place where, you know, there’s a little honk to my voice. And then the chorus is more purely electronic with that 808 with the implied triplet feel under it. It has a very different character, so producing it I was like, “Can I draw these two worlds together in a way that they end up working as a whole?”
I think [Syd from The Internet] is an incredible artist. I love the spirit of her voice and she’s just perfect for the song because, you know, I’m kind of freaking out a little bit, my voice in an upper register, pushing, yelping, and then she seems just so cool. So smooth and calming.
That one began with the beat. I was just playing around with the beat and I made up that little riff over it and, you know, it’s a little bit of a bot. It’s a light, breezy song, you know, but I also wanted to take these disparate elements and make them live in the same world. So, that crazy keyboard thing in the verses that’s mixed way to loud? [Laughs] It’s a Wurlitzer that’s been thrown through one of those DigiTech, whammy pedals. All over this record I’m taking that idea of hocketing: rhythmic sharing, breaking up a melody or a rhythmic pattern across different pieces of the group. I wanted that vocal melody to be in hocket with the Wurlitzer in the verses and the pre-chorus. So that was just, I don’t know, like a fun, little challenge. I like to make it difficult to see if I can carry it through.
“That’s a Lifestyle” (feat. HAIM):
It’s a song in protest of the political realities we find ourselves mired in at the moment. I think the lyrics are fairly explicit and self-explanatory in that respect. As for HAIM’s involvement, well, they’re friends in Los Angeles. I reached out to Danielle [Haim] and she was like, ‘Hell yeah.’ I sent her a rough version of the song and after I was like, maybe I should have worked on it more before but then she got back and was like, ‘Oh, we love it.’ They brought a twang to it that really changed the character of the song. I’m honored to have them on the record.
I think all music has a political dimension, just inherently. Oftentimes, though, it just doesn’t occur to a songwriter to write it out explicitly. Or, it doesn’t until, you know, we see this rapid slide into white supremacist fascism. My values are going to be baked into the things that I write, and with this one I just wanted to hammer at it a little bit.
“I Feel Energy” (feat. Amber Mark):
In this world we’re living in right now, what is the response? How are we supposed to feel? I think that what’s occurring to a lot of a lot of us is that the silver lining here is that, as shitty a turn as things have taken, it didn’t happen overnight. And a lot of these things have been have been going on for a long time, albeit not quite so out in the open. And, you know, in that there’s now a light being shined and a certain momentum to come together and and really articulate the world that we want to make. I think, in general, there’s a feel with this album that’s like: Let’s find the things that we believe in, let’s locate the things that give us hope. We need those right now, so it felt natural and necessary to make a song that was ebullient and joyful.
I [Amber Mark’s] voice so much. Her song, “Lose My Cool” was my favorite song of last year. There’s so much confidence and bravado and energy. I get passion from her voice. And she just slays the part. She makes the song happen.
[Björk] sent me an iMovie recording of a Japanese cricket a little while ago. She said it’s this crazy sound, and it was very rhythmic, very musical. But it’s also just completely alien, and so I wove it into the rhythmic framework of the song.
“Zombie Conquerer” (feat. Empress Of):
I wanted to make [the lyrics] like a movie, you know? I wanted it to feel like a chase, like, a preparation montage in a movie. The lyrics are going for that, and there’s not a great deal more to it than that. I knew exactly what the guitar layers were the moment I wrote it. I love those colors.
I had the rough vocals done for most of the record, but, looking back on it, I was like, “Well, this album feels more like a party or a community.” It didn’t feel like such a monologue or a studio creation. Lorely [Rodriguez of Empress Of] was the first person I reached out to, she was down to do it, and that was maybe the first one that we put down.
This is really about a spring day, exactly that, hearing the birds chirp and remembering sunlight on your face. I was worried that, in the end, I’d made [the recorders] too quiet. But, yeah, it has a comedic quality, a good humor.
I guess we could also talk about Mauro Refosco, the percussionist. He recorded a lot of this stuff with me. I’d have these rhythmic patterns and whatnot that I’d made in a computer and then he would go through layer by layer and play them acoustically. On some, he’d pull out these wood blocks and pieces of sheet metal; just stuff that he’d accumulated over a decade or two of touring around the world. He’s really able to bring this tactile character to these patterns
“Found It In U”:
All [the songs are personal], but this one, totally. This came out of a summer when I was working with Solange on her record, and I was in this place of just, like, making tons of beats. I was trying to make four beats a day, and this beat is from that. I love the speed of it, but I had kind of forgotten about it. When I found it again, I kind of just freestyled out some of the melodies and threw down some organ and guitar and that’s pretty much it. There aren’t too many elements to the song, but, to me, it feels really complete. And it got there pretty fast.
“What Is The Time”:
There’s a lot of horns on the record. I’ve really enjoyed writing and providing for horns, and also some of the players I know in LA are just so fun to record with. Todd Simon, Tracy Wannomae, and Juliane Graf all play on that number and they’re great players.
The whole studio experience, from my perspective, is kind of improvisational. That’s one of the things I love about it. The approach to the rhythm section on this record, for me, really builds off of what I what I was doing on the self-titled record. I was approaching it almost like electronic music or something, creating beasts and layers and playing with the friction between organic, performed elements and synthetic elements. In contrast to the self-titled record, there’s a lot more natural room sound and more performed instruments on top of that in terms of the the Wurlitzer and a lot of guitars and things like that. This song, and maybe this is what you’re getting at: it’s just the straight track. There’s no looping going on. I’m not cutting it up and moving things around. It’s a pretty straight performance.
“You’re the One” (feat. Robin Pecknold and Rostam):
When I write melodies, a lot of times I do it high. They’re always hard for me. Also, my writing tends to lend itself to women’s voices. This song, though, it’s a bit more in the tenor-y register. So, to have this Three Tenors vibe to it, especially for a song that is a bit of a declaration of love, felt like the right way to embody the song. And Robin and Rostam are just friends in town; they were down to be a part of it.
“(I Wanna) Feel It All” (feat. Dear Nora):
Kind of Duke Ellington-style, I was really inspired by his work as an arranger in writing for this kind of big band jazz sort of context. I guess I had that idea for it and then I was also feeling that maybe string writing would be a cool vehicle for it as well, so I did both. Figuring out how they related to one another was a challenge.
[Dear Nora’s] Katy Davidson and I were just texting at one point and we realized that we were on like the same track for finishing a record. So I asked them to have this little cameo in the song and then I did a little cameo on their record as well. [I was a huge fan of them.] My brother was in early versions of Dear Nora when they were in college together way back in the 20th century. And when my brother went off to school he left his high school band’s cassette four-track with me, and that’s how I got into songwriting, recording, and the rest of it. I would make these tapes and send them to Jake, my brother, and then I guess he shared them with Katy, who became my first tape-trading friend. I would get tapes from them and they would blow my mind with the chord changes, the songwriting, everything. Katy’s been a model for me in how to navigate the music industry and in what a career looks like.
[Collaborating with them was a full circle moment for me as an artist.] Totally, yeah. That’s a good way of putting it. And it’s also just exciting because it’s the first Dear Nora record in a bit, right? I want to celebrate that.