Over three full lengths, an EP, and five different live bands in four years, David Longstreth has created in Dirty Projectors a body of music of original and variegated beauty. The breadth of his talents as a songwriter, arranger, bandleader and singer call to mind Prince, Joni Mitchell, and Bjork. His constantly evolving sound — both live and on record — the sheer intensity of the music, and the originality of his voice set him apart. Among modern music makers, he is a maverick: a loner and a rebel.
From beginning to end, Dirty Projectors’ new offering, Rise Above, is a reimagining of Black’s Flag seminal 1981 record Damaged. It is not a covers record. Longstreth attempted to rewrite his favorite adolescent album word for word, from memory. From an interview with daytrotter.com:
I didn’t listen to the album or read the lyrics while I was doing it, and I hadn’t heard the record since middle school, more or less. I relied on memory and intuition mostly. I wanted to see if I could make this album myself: not as plagiarism or mimicry, but as an original creative act. Writing a song is like pulling a shape out of the air, but I didn’t want to write just any song — I wanted to write a song that already existed. An album of them, actually.
It was really less mystical than it sounds though. It required a lot of hard work. Lots of editing and rewriting, and many, many drafts.
I did it because I thought it might be fun to stage my own theft of the punk rock spirit, like they did with new wave and grunge and American Idol. Only my doing it would be more like an observation than an action: not muscular at all: purposely useless, beautiful, like a witness.
All that Jorge Luis Borges-inspired jive might just be hot wind if Rise Above weren’t such a hell of a record on its own terms. It resounds with a kind of elegant simplicity: beautiful interlocking guitar parts, gorgeous three-part vocal harmonies, and some great songwriting. Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear manned the knobs, giving Rise Above the same rich sound that he brought to his own band’s acclaimed album Yellow House. Longstreth used the same musicians that appeared on the US tour on which he debuted these songs, and Rise Above captures the inventiveness and raw power of Dirty Projectors’ live arrangements at long last.
(DOC001 released: 09/11/07)