“It Felt Manic”: Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth on Releasing Two Albums in 16 Months

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As the band’s primary creative force Dave Longstreth describes it, the new Dirty Projectors song “I Feel Energy” is a departure. It’s a song he’s wanted to make “for a long time, but it wasn’t until now that I felt like I could.” It also wouldn’t have been possible without Björk and a very specific insect. “She sent me an iPhone movie of a cricket, a Japanese cricket called a higurashi cricket. She said, ‘Check out this crazy sound.’ I was playing around with it, and it really worked in the crescendo out of the bridge.”

Lamp Lit Prose, the band’s eighth studio album and second in the last 16 months, has the experimental spirit and mechanical sonic palate of last year’s self-titled album, but with a focus on upbeat love songs. It’s also a who’s who of music in the 2010s, with cameos from Haim (“That’s a Lifestyle”), former Vampire Weekend multi-instrumentalist Rostam and Robin Pecknold of Fleet Foxes (“You’re the One”), and former Odd Future member Syd (“Right Now”). “I Feel Energy” features Amber Mark, a singer and producer whom Longstreth first heard on Los Angeles radio station KCRW. “I began working on this in a similar way [to previous albums], which is to say, I was pretty solitary,” he said. “At some point, I was like, ‘Man, this record feels like it wants other voices, and wants to be a conversation. It wants to be a party a little bit.’”

Longstreth realizes that delivering two albums in two years it a bit unusual in an era where the recording-promoting-touring cycle is usually drawn out to at least two or three years. “It felt manic,” he said. “As the self-titled album came together, I wanted to keep on writing, recording, and producing. So I didn’t go on tour and I just kept on making music.” Despite press appearances on the release of the album and his reputation as a strong live musician, Longstreth kept a low profile for the rest of 2017. He played two summer festivals, focusing on the new material and playing with backing tracks and only a few live musicians.

Lamp Lit Prose takes the elements and studied approach that made Longstreth an indie-rock success story in 2009 and blows it up to pop-music proportions. Both Lamp Lit Prose and the 2017 album arrived after the end of Longstreth’s relationship with former bandmate Amber Coffman and a subsequent three-year hiatus, from 2013 to 2016. “When the Swing Lo Magellan touring wound up, it felt like the end of something for me, and I needed a break from touring,” Longstreth said. “But really, the co-writing and producing I did after this gave me a different perspective on this whole thing. To me that was like being a different spoke on the wheel.”

Longstreth moved to Los Angeles, set up a studio, and began work as a songwriter for hire, composing the bridge on the Rihanna, Kanye West, and Paul McCartney collaboration “FourFiveSeconds” and multiple songs on Solange’s breakthrough album A Seat at the Table. When he returned to his own music, he began working with a wider array of instruments than he’d used in the past, experimenting with new production techniques, and even altering his singing. “I changed the way I approached singing on the self-titled record,” he said. “I thought of it more like playing an instrument, whereas before I’d just been thinking of it as a wild id manifestation that I couldn’t control and shouldn’t try to.” It shows: there are many moments on Lamp Lit Prose where he takes on the vocal trills and acrobatics he might have previously given to someone else.

Since Longstreth recorded some of his first songs in a makeshift studio in his Yale dormitory in 2001, the Dirty Projectors lineup has changed consistently; Longstreth is the only person who has appeared on every album. But he still thinks of his new work in the context of what came before.

“I do have my more concept-y albums, and then I have the ones that are more about just collections of songs,” he said. “For me, the first Dirty Projectors record that I put out was like that, The Glad Fact. But [others] are just song records, there’s no overarching theme. Lamp Lit Prose is the same way. Let’s just make songs.”

To support the new album, Longstreth has formed a touring band for the first time in five years; the tour is an extensive one. He’s already played 30-some shows this year and has about 20 more in front of him. He’s back behind the guitar again, leading sing-alongs to the new songs and attacking the high notes with enthusiasm.

“I’ve come back around to this moment,” he said, “and the thing that interests me is writing music, playing it with people. To go on tour and to get to play it for people, and with people, has been really cool.” After a half-decade of working behind the scenes and one album where it seemed like he was on his own, he’s a bandleader again.

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Full ScreenPhotos:Carry These New Books with You Wherever You Go
The Story of H by Marina Perezagua (trans. by Valerie Miles)

The Story of H

An epic novel spanning the arc of the central character’s life, The Story of H (Ecco) leaves nary a difficult subject untouched, exploring parenthood, sexuality, slavery, morality, and sanity. The book, translated from the author Marina Perezagua’s native Spanish, follows Japanese protagonist “H,” an intersex child who, while proclaimed male at birth and raised as a boy, identifies as female. The book, which calls to mind Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House, sees H live through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as a young teen; orphaned and injured, she takes on life as a survivor—and, finally, lives openly as the woman she’s always known herself to be. In New York, H meets and falls in love with Jim, an American formerly stationed as a soldier in Japan during W.W. II, who is searching for a child entrusted in his care during his time in the military. Together the couple embarks on a quest to find the child, H all the while grappling with her past, her identity, and her future, and eventually realizing that all of her experiences are more connected than anyone would have thought: “Life’s like that sometimes, isn’t it? Just when you think you’ve overcome what hurt you the most, you find yourself in a river whose current isn’t taking you to the outlet, but to where it’s born, forcing you to flow the course for a second time.” (Amazon)

Photo: From Harper Collins.

French Exit by Patrick deWitt

French Exit

When 65-year-old Frances Price’s financial adviser tells her that she has squandered all of her (substantial) wealth, Frances decides to leave New York and take up residence in her friend’s Paris apartment, bringing with her two companions: her cat, Small Frank (original Frank, Frances’s husband, died years before), and Malcolm, her 32-year-old, longtime live-in son. Patrick deWitt, author of the Booker-nominated The Sisters Brothers, metes out a tragicomic tale in French Exit (Ecco)—the book is amusing from its first pages, but it takes the conclusion to explain, for instance, why Frances, after discovering her husband’s body, went skiing in Vail for the weekend without calling the authorities; why Malcolm was “so plainly and relentlessly smitten” with his mother that he forgoes a life with a fiancée he loves to live with her; and why Small Frank matters to both Frances and Malcolm more than even the most coddled household pet should. (Amazon)

Photo: From Ecco.

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein

From the Corner of the Oval

Beck Dorey-Stein was in her mid-twenties, living in Washington, D.C., and searching fruitlessly for a job, when a cryptic Craigslist posting yielded a role as White House stenographer. From the Corner of the Oval (Spiegel & Grau) tracks the author’s time at the White House, from traveling on Air Force One, to recording and transcribing the press conferences after major meetings between the president and world leaders, and even exercising next to Obama: “I slow to a stop,” Dorey-Stein writes, “and out of the corner of my eye, I see someone step onto the treadmill to my right. ‘I thought you’d be faster than that,’ he says. I look over to see who this joker is. It’s the president.” Dorey-Stein recalls such memorable anecdotes as ending up in the Mitt Romney press van after a particularly bad Obama debate, Vice President Joe Biden’s penchant for jokes, and showing up for a trip to Petra with “bright green slacks from the Gap.” (The dress code for the trip was “disaster casual.”) Click here to read my interview with Dorey-Stein. (Amazon)

Photo: From Spiegel and Grau.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens lived in Zambia for over two decades, studying elephants and co-authoring Secrets of the Savanna: Twenty-Three Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries of Elephants and People, among other nonfiction books, about her experiences. Her debut novel, however, is set in North Carolina, another place Owens knows well. (When she was young, she went canoe camping with her mother in the Okefenokee Swamp and other wild places.) Owens’s familiar, detailed descriptions set the scene for Where the Crawdads Sing (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), both a coming-of-age story and a mysterious account of a murder investigation told from the perspective of a young girl, Kya, who is abandoned by her family in the North Carolina marshland, and later suspected of a murder that rocks a sleepy coastal town. Through Kya’s story, Owens explores how isolation affects human behavior, and the deep effect that rejection can have on our lives: “Human females, as mammals, have a long history—a strong genetic propensity—to associate with a tightly bonded group of females,” writes Owens in an introduction to the book. “I began to wonder what would happen to a young woman deprived of a troop. What would happen to a girl, Kya, our heroine, forced to straddle the wild and the civilized.” (Amazon)

Photo: From G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Killing It by Camas Davis

Killing It

Leave it to France to provide clarity and pleasure to a wanting American soul, and to prize authenticity so much as to inspire said soul to open the Portland Meat Collective upon her return to the U.S. “She was big. I didn’t even know pigs could get that big,” begins Camas Davis’s book. “And although I could see for myself the astounding girth of her, I had no way of wrapping my head around the sheer physical reality of such a weight, until the mechanical hand that had lifted the dead old sow up out of the concrete bath of scalding water accidentally dropped her, from from five feet high, onto the hard, cold concrete floor. It wasn’t a thud, exactly. It was more of a ripple. A reverberating ripple of fat and skin and bone. Her heart was still in there, too, though no longer beating. So were her kidneys, her spleen, her lungs, her gallbladder, her small and large intestines, and everything else that had once mader her alive but now made her a very heavy carcass on the floor.” So much for easing the reader into this memoir in which, after a personal crisis, Davis, a former food writer and editor, travels to France to learn the art of animal butchery. Killing It: An Education (Penguin Press) is as unflinching as one might imagine a book with that title to be, but it’s also humanizing and thoughtful—with the butchery comes a journey of self-realization applicable far beyond the realm of animals or food. (Amazon)

Photo: From Penguin Press.

The Husband Hunters by Anne de Courcy

The Husband Hunters

No summer books roundup can be complete without a dose of British high society; this season we’ve been granted The Husband Hunters (St. Martin’s), a true account of the women who inspired Downton Abbey. At the turn of the 20th century, the historically closed off British society started seeing an influx of American heiresses, beginning when, in 1874, Jennie Jerome married Randolph Churchill, and continuing with dozens of young, rich American women—known as “dollar princesses”—who crossed the pond to marry impoverished British gentry; in the period between 1870 and 1914 alone, almost 500 American women married titled Europeans. In her book, Anne de Courcy reveals the phenomenon behind Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, “the story of four American girls, not in the ‘right set’ in New York, who come to England and marry into the peerage”; she gets in their heads and in their homes, exploring what life was like for them after their moves and the clash of cultures that ensued. (Amazon)

Photo: From St. Martin’s.

Notes from the Fog by Ben Marcus

Notes from the Fog

The stories in Ben Marcus’s Notes from the Fog (Knopf) take place in a fantastical but eerily familiar world. There’s the story of a company employee who ends up disfigured after testing his company’s nutritional supplement, an enhanced glow emanating from a computer monitor; and the one of a couple, Roy and Helen, both architects, who, when commissioned to design a memorial to a terrorist attack, consider the morality of artificially inciting emotion in mourners: “There was really just one more thing to deal with for now . . . They had to finally sit down and look at bids from the pharmaceuticals, which were vying to be the providers of the chemical component that every memorial these days was more or less expected to have: a gentle mist to assist the emotional response of visitors and drug them into a torpor of sympathy. Not garment-rending sympathy, but something more dignified. A mood was delivered via fog.” Put like this, the situation seems almost normal, and that is one of Marcus’s strengths: imagining a future which is similar enough to our world to seem plausible, but different enough for the reader to grasp the ramifications of certain fates with which our current world is flirting. “It was an inevitable shortcut, or even a stage of evolution, in architecture,” writes Marcus, “assisting the public’s reaction and securing that most prized of currencies: human fucking feeling.” (Amazon)

Photo: From Knopf.

The Story of H

The Story of H

An epic novel spanning the arc of the central character’s life, The Story of H (Ecco) leaves nary a difficult subject untouched, exploring parenthood, sexuality, slavery, morality, and sanity. The book, translated from the author Marina Perezagua’s native Spanish, follows Japanese protagonist “H,” an intersex child who, while proclaimed male at birth and raised as a boy, identifies as female. The book, which calls to mind Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things and Salman Rushdie’s The Golden House, sees H live through the atomic bombing of Hiroshima as a young teen; orphaned and injured, she takes on life as a survivor—and, finally, lives openly as the woman she’s always known herself to be. In New York, H meets and falls in love with Jim, an American formerly stationed as a soldier in Japan during W.W. II, who is searching for a child entrusted in his care during his time in the military. Together the couple embarks on a quest to find the child, H all the while grappling with her past, her identity, and her future, and eventually realizing that all of her experiences are more connected than anyone would have thought: “Life’s like that sometimes, isn’t it? Just when you think you’ve overcome what hurt you the most, you find yourself in a river whose current isn’t taking you to the outlet, but to where it’s born, forcing you to flow the course for a second time.” (Amazon)

From Harper Collins.

French Exit

French Exit

When 65-year-old Frances Price’s financial adviser tells her that she has squandered all of her (substantial) wealth, Frances decides to leave New York and take up residence in her friend’s Paris apartment, bringing with her two companions: her cat, Small Frank (original Frank, Frances’s husband, died years before), and Malcolm, her 32-year-old, longtime live-in son. Patrick deWitt, author of the Booker-nominated The Sisters Brothers, metes out a tragicomic tale in French Exit (Ecco)—the book is amusing from its first pages, but it takes the conclusion to explain, for instance, why Frances, after discovering her husband’s body, went skiing in Vail for the weekend without calling the authorities; why Malcolm was “so plainly and relentlessly smitten” with his mother that he forgoes a life with a fiancée he loves to live with her; and why Small Frank matters to both Frances and Malcolm more than even the most coddled household pet should. (Amazon)

From Ecco.

From the Corner of the Oval

From the Corner of the Oval

Beck Dorey-Stein was in her mid-twenties, living in Washington, D.C., and searching fruitlessly for a job, when a cryptic Craigslist posting yielded a role as White House stenographer. From the Corner of the Oval (Spiegel & Grau) tracks the author’s time at the White House, from traveling on Air Force One, to recording and transcribing the press conferences after major meetings between the president and world leaders, and even exercising next to Obama: “I slow to a stop,” Dorey-Stein writes, “and out of the corner of my eye, I see someone step onto the treadmill to my right. ‘I thought you’d be faster than that,’ he says. I look over to see who this joker is. It’s the president.” Dorey-Stein recalls such memorable anecdotes as ending up in the Mitt Romney press van after a particularly bad Obama debate, Vice President Joe Biden’s penchant for jokes, and showing up for a trip to Petra with “bright green slacks from the Gap.” (The dress code for the trip was “disaster casual.”) Click here to read my interview with Dorey-Stein. (Amazon)

From Spiegel and Grau.

Where the Crawdads Sing

Where the Crawdads Sing

Delia Owens lived in Zambia for over two decades, studying elephants and co-authoring Secrets of the Savanna: Twenty-Three Years in the African Wilderness Unraveling the Mysteries of Elephants and People, among other nonfiction books, about her experiences. Her debut novel, however, is set in North Carolina, another place Owens knows well. (When she was young, she went canoe camping with her mother in the Okefenokee Swamp and other wild places.) Owens’s familiar, detailed descriptions set the scene for Where the Crawdads Sing (G.P. Putnam’s Sons), both a coming-of-age story and a mysterious account of a murder investigation told from the perspective of a young girl, Kya, who is abandoned by her family in the North Carolina marshland, and later suspected of a murder that rocks a sleepy coastal town. Through Kya’s story, Owens explores how isolation affects human behavior, and the deep effect that rejection can have on our lives: “Human females, as mammals, have a long history—a strong genetic propensity—to associate with a tightly bonded group of females,” writes Owens in an introduction to the book. “I began to wonder what would happen to a young woman deprived of a troop. What would happen to a girl, Kya, our heroine, forced to straddle the wild and the civilized.” (Amazon)

From G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

This Mournable Body

This Mournable Body

In This Mournable Body (Graywolf), a follow-up to her earlier novel, Nervous Conditions, the filmmaker, playwright, and author Tsitsi Dangarembga returns to her protagonist, Tambudzai, an unemployed, middle-aged, single woman living in Zimbabwe, to explore the traditions and expectations still at play in the country today, while emphasizing the contrast between Zimbabwe’s rules and the attitudes of some of its inhabitants: “The matron is fighting for you, she says. She tells you often how the board of trustees is complaining. Not about you as such, but about your age, she says. The city council will revoke the hostel’s license if they find out women of such antiquity reside there, women who are well beyond the years allowed in the Twiss Hostel’s statutes. You hate that board of bitches.” The novel explores how race, gender, class, and age are at play in Zimbabwe, and the overwhelming strength of these forces in the face of even the most optimistic and ambitious woman. (Amazon)

From Graywolf.

Certain American States

Certain American States

In a glowing review of Catherine Lacey’s first book, Nobody Is Ever Missing (2014), Dwight Garner included a minor criticism of the author’s prose; the book, he said, “is composed mostly of long, languid sentences . . . Sometimes these sentences lose their way, stall out, or end up doubling back on themselves.” Garner did add, “Just as often, they are improbably beautiful, or simply cool and knowing,” but the very first story in Lacey’s new collection, Certain American States (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), titled “Violations,” addresses the sprawling sentences, which have become characteristic of the author’s style, through a fictional scenario that nonetheless hints at the autobiographical: “She confessed . . . that even though these long sentences came naturally to her, and even though they’d been approved by her agent and other writers and editors and critics, she sometimes wondered if they weren’t a crutch or a limitation, though they did create a sort of momentum that she liked”—we’ll leave it at that, since the whole phrase takes up most of a page. So begins a collection of stories rife with sentences whose length and detached style work hand in hand to evoke emotions and encourage thinking and reflection. The theme of the book is loneliness, a condition so present that it makes the unconnected stories seem related, and which also points to the title of the collection: “The loneliness of certain American states is enough to kill a person if you look too closely.” (Amazon)

From Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Godspeed

Godspeed

It’s a mystery how Casey Legler, who manages New York’s popular French eatery La Mercerie, and who can also accurately be called a model, activist, and artist, had time to write a memoir, let alone one with so much power and transparency as Godspeed (Atria). The inspiring book is dedicated to “all the young ones touched with lightning,” and details the former Olympic swimmer’s childhood spent training in the pool, the difficulties of an unsupportive family constantly on the move, the isolation of not fitting in with her peers and exploring her sexuality without someone to turn to, and the unfortunate fact of never truly enjoying the sport in which she would eventually break Olympic world records. “Somewhere between the final draft and the book you have now, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (formerly known as Asperger’s—also known fondly in our family as Aspie),” Legler adds in the prologue. “So—along with the drugs, the Olympics, the abuse, the general disregard for authority or other people, and the ways I coped with my struggled youth—I also inadvertently wrote the story of a young girl child who was on the spectrum.” (Amazon)

From Atria.

How to Love a Jamaican

How to Love a Jamaican

Alexia Arthurs’s debut collection of stories approaches Jamaica from a range of voices which emanate not only from Jamaica itself, but also New York and the Midwest. How To Love a Jamaican (Ballantine) explores subjects ranging from identity and what it means to be a woman, to heritage and what it means to be Jamaican. In “We Eat Our Daughters,” Arthurs quotes the late writer and civil-rights activist Audre Lorde—“My mother had two faces and a frying pot / where she cooked up her daughters / into girls / before she fixed our dinner. / My mother had two faces / and a broken pot / where she hid out a perfect daughter / who was not me / I am the sun and moon and forever hungry / for her eyes”—before exploring motherhood, and the relationships between mothers and daughters, through the lens of being Jamaican, often culminating in phrases such as: “You’re going to let your mother shame you for your sexuality when she had seven children with five different men?” (For a further infusion of Jamaica, try writer-performer Marcia Douglas’s The Marvellous Equations of the Dread: A Novel in Bass Riddim.) (Amazon)

From Ballantine.

Killing It

Killing It

Leave it to France to provide clarity and pleasure to a wanting American soul, and to prize authenticity so much as to inspire said soul to open the Portland Meat Collective upon her return to the U.S. “She was big. I didn’t even know pigs could get that big,” begins Camas Davis’s book. “And although I could see for myself the astounding girth of her, I had no way of wrapping my head around the sheer physical reality of such a weight, until the mechanical hand that had lifted the dead old sow up out of the concrete bath of scalding water accidentally dropped her, from from five feet high, onto the hard, cold concrete floor. It wasn’t a thud, exactly. It was more of a ripple. A reverberating ripple of fat and skin and bone. Her heart was still in there, too, though no longer beating. So were her kidneys, her spleen, her lungs, her gallbladder, her small and large intestines, and everything else that had once mader her alive but now made her a very heavy carcass on the floor.” So much for easing the reader into this memoir in which, after a personal crisis, Davis, a former food writer and editor, travels to France to learn the art of animal butchery. Killing It: An Education (Penguin Press) is as unflinching as one might imagine a book with that title to be, but it’s also humanizing and thoughtful—with the butchery comes a journey of self-realization applicable far beyond the realm of animals or food. (Amazon)

From Penguin Press.

The Husband Hunters

The Husband Hunters

No summer books roundup can be complete without a dose of British high society; this season we’ve been granted The Husband Hunters (St. Martin’s), a true account of the women who inspired Downton Abbey. At the turn of the 20th century, the historically closed off British society started seeing an influx of American heiresses, beginning when, in 1874, Jennie Jerome married Randolph Churchill, and continuing with dozens of young, rich American women—known as “dollar princesses”—who crossed the pond to marry impoverished British gentry; in the period between 1870 and 1914 alone, almost 500 American women married titled Europeans. In her book, Anne de Courcy reveals the phenomenon behind Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, “the story of four American girls, not in the ‘right set’ in New York, who come to England and marry into the peerage”; she gets in their heads and in their homes, exploring what life was like for them after their moves and the clash of cultures that ensued. (Amazon)

From St. Martin’s.

Notes from the Fog

Notes from the Fog

The stories in Ben Marcus’s Notes from the Fog (Knopf) take place in a fantastical but eerily familiar world. There’s the story of a company employee who ends up disfigured after testing his company’s nutritional supplement, an enhanced glow emanating from a computer monitor; and the one of a couple, Roy and Helen, both architects, who, when commissioned to design a memorial to a terrorist attack, consider the morality of artificially inciting emotion in mourners: “There was really just one more thing to deal with for now . . . They had to finally sit down and look at bids from the pharmaceuticals, which were vying to be the providers of the chemical component that every memorial these days was more or less expected to have: a gentle mist to assist the emotional response of visitors and drug them into a torpor of sympathy. Not garment-rending sympathy, but something more dignified. A mood was delivered via fog.” Put like this, the situation seems almost normal, and that is one of Marcus’s strengths: imagining a future which is similar enough to our world to seem plausible, but different enough for the reader to grasp the ramifications of certain fates with which our current world is flirting. “It was an inevitable shortcut, or even a stage of evolution, in architecture,” writes Marcus, “assisting the public’s reaction and securing that most prized of currencies: human fucking feeling.” (Amazon)

From Knopf.



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