David Longstreth exists in an alternate dimension where pop’s binaries are distorted to fit a brutalized abstract landscape. His bastardized versions of art-pop reached an apex with Bitte Orca almost a decade ago, though I think it’s Swing Lo Magellan where Longstreth discovers a pocket for stripped-back folk and accessible soul. Arguably, this was the era where Dirty Projectors were the most digestible. They were still “weird,” but not “NSFW album artwork” weird. The instrumentals weren’t as jarring on Swing Lo as they were on some of their earliest endeavors either.
The band divulges into romanticism and tragedy with the ethos of a Giacomo Puccini opera; percussion endlessly swaying back and forth between calm and demanding-sometimes both. Longsreth has become more direct with his words, particularly on the bleak self-titled project from a few years back (he couldn’t even tour because of how depressing the project was).
Their dismal songwriting eventually transitioned into more fruitful ambitions a year or so later. Lamp Lit Prose signified a jaunty approach to music-making, as Longstreth welcomed a lighter pathway to the production. His lyricism was still prophetic in nature, but very rarely was it tonally harrowing.
Not even a year later, the Projectors’ decided it was time for a live version of their greatest cuts from past projects. Aside from a few stragglers, most of these updates originated from Lamp Lit Prose. Very little has changed in terms of instrumental palette and lyrics. There’s subtle mixing and cadence adjustments that manifest a change in attitude.
For example, the live version of “Cool Your Heart” carries a gentler touch to its soundscapes, especially when Dawn’s yearning chorus establishes a foothold in the climax of the track. The production isn’t as glitchy or unnerving, which was definitely the case in its primary form during Longstreth’s dismal heartbreak period. Instead, listeners are subjected to a mellow synth line that sounds like an ice cream truck passing by on a hot summer day.
His fascination with romance and tragedy still follows an intertwined narrative as emphasized on “Right Now,” a track that possesses apocalyptic undertones-“The sky was darkened, the Earth turned to hell/Some said a light got shined where darkness dwelt.” From its light drum taps to the surf-inspired guitar riffs, Longstreth changes absolutely nothing when it comes to the sonic trajectory, thus implying that our world is still as fucked-up as it was black in June of 2018.
The rickety hi-hats and fluctuating guitar melody suggests that “What is Time” could fit snuggly within a mid-1980s Prince project, or one of Solange’s chopped and screwed concoctions. There’s an equivocal resonance that can also be found on any number of Solange cuts from her last album, especially in Longstreth’s mystical verses (“Seek the dusty longshot/On the last frontier/Join the minor miracle that looks flat”). It all culminates into some incantation about finding that one true love.
Longstreth is clearly more spry as of late, something that’s allowed him to be creatively overjoyed. “I Feel Energy” perfectly encapsulates an artist who’s more inclined and comfortable when speaking on the taboo nature of mental instability, and how it relates to love’s adversity. He loves to delve into the compound subplots of human communication, as evidenced in his many album covers that showcase two people interconnected through some scientific bubble.
The songs Longstreth chose for this live album are some of the best written and most interesting from the Projectors’ previous bodies of work. The fat is trimmed for a nimble listen. In general, he feels less isolated from the world, as represented from the refreshing presence of female voices scattered throughout Sing the Melody. There’s an intimate feel that’s juxtaposed by a slight dose of ambiguity; which are characteristics you’d expect at this point in a modern Dirty Projectors album. Nothing here is as progressive as their catalog before. There’s a “FourFiveSeconds” rendition (a song they have writing credits for) that does little to augment the original. Most of everything sounds the same. Longstreth for the most part restrains from submitting anything that’s too complex. On the surface, this choice may seem uninspired; but in a world where the unknown is slightly becoming more frightening, it’s probably best to lighten things up a bit.