The Dirty Projectors
he Dirty Projectors have been a band easy to appreciate from a distance. A deluge of albums and EPs spanning afro-pop, sub-fi folk, and art punk have ridden Projectors honcho Dave Longstreth’s ululating, cold-shower of a voice to fair acclaim that has never threatened to boil into anything larger. There is a reason for this: Longstreth’s a bit of a spazz, and his releases tend to wander and forget and fizzle before finally running out of steam. Consider that Rise Above, a record loosely re-rendering Black Flag’s Damaged—something Longstreth purportedly has not heard in over a decade—is the most focused art the Projectors have ever produced.
Don’t put too much faith in the concept, though: it’s bunk. Submit to circumstantial evidence—that no matter how much time has elapsed, it’s impossible not to reproduce “TV Party”’s chorus, that Longstreth makes the 33-second “Spraypaint” into a slow-build chime, or simply that he turns in ten songs to Damaged’s 15—or merely trust that sonically, the Projectors still have nothing in common with Black Flag. A side-by-side reading of lyrics will get you a bit closer, but don’t sweat the small stuff: it’s healthier to think of Damaged as a spiritual foundation than as an actual arbiter of Rise Above’s content.
Damaged is a weird choice, besides. It’s a bit like an old blues record at this point: you tune in for the groundbreaking guitar work and your level of commitment thereafter depends on your stomach for tropes and shittily recorded vocals. Longstreth is a vocally oriented northeasterner, and Henry Rollins’ straight-faced diction is an awkward match for his kinesis. Longstreth sounds silly straining out “They hit me across the head with a billy club” or “Gimme gimme gimme / I want some more.” Longstreth’s too sweet for Damaged’s animalistic affronts.
Instead, Rise Above reaches for Damaged’s intangibles. Longstreth’s band finally stabilized—guitarist Amber Coffman, and drummer Brian McOmber, with bassist Angel Deradoorian joining after the record wrapped—and Rise Above is familial. They don’t feel like a band so much as a peculiarly strident gang. You got a problem wit’ Dave? You got a problem wit’ alls of us. Coffman and Susanna Waiche harmonize brilliantly behind Longstreth, muscling in reinforcements: “I need action / Won’t take no more.” Longstreth’s previous forays into electronic music and folk are rightfully shelved, and there is an embedded physicality and violence in their skeletal, sudden movements. Righteous chimes of guitar trounce “Room 13” and “Depression.” Longstreth’s willowy voice dodges the blows, spiraling upward. Stomp, ascend, stomp, ascend. The simplicity is foreign and refreshing; like Indian or African music, you can find comfort in not understanding how the sounds coalesce.
The Projectors never lose control, though. Their finesse shines in the fragile riffing of “What I See” and “Six Pack.” They have the patience to allow Longstreth to whisper through “Thirsty and Miserable.” This band, though…these kids are special. They start playing and shit begins to bounce and warm. People might get hurt! Longstreth really needed a rallying point, and fuck it if that rallying point is a non sequitur. It is a brilliant inversion that the politics and fumes of Damaged sound more Longstreth’s champion than he theirs. “Rise Above,” a too convenient closer, is nonetheless a perfectly foolhardy hymnal: “We are tired of your abuse / Try to stop us but it’s no use…I find satisfaction in what they’re lacking.” So stubborn and vindictive, punk rockers: bless ‘em.