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Dirty Projectors

It must be around 3:30 in the streets of Greenwich Village, surrounded by tourists and strolling New Yorkers, on a Saturday afternoon. I started to get really tired, barely hanging on to the camera, letting myself follow the joyful troupe that took over the street—it was a situation I had set in motion with a simple, “Let’s walk in the middle of the street.” Then a man walked closer, his ear pressed to his phone: “Listen, baby, there’s a beautiful band playing some music in the street, do you hear it?” He yelled into his receiver, “Hey baby? Baby? Do you hear it? Are you there?” The man didn’t seem to get a response, and did a crisp half-turn. Then Dave starts to yell at the exact moment that the bystander disappears from the frame. Thanks, and life goes on, they seem to tell each other.

Before heading to New York in April, just after a lovely sojourn at Cincinnati’s MusicNOW festival, I had sought advice from well-informed friends about new local bands we should film. Their suggestions ranged from Volcano! to Grizzly Bear, from Simon Guzy to Rudolph Giuliani–but the band on everyone’s lips was DIRTY PROJECTORS.

One man, Dave Longstreth, with three albums and an EP already behind him. Three varied and fantastic albums, moving formations, a sound on a perpetual search. And above all, a new and forth album, Rise Above, set to come out September 11th on Dead Oceans, which should very easily establish its auteur as one of the visionaries of the current-day music scene. Personally, it was the prettiest shock I’d experienced in months, the rare sensation of discovering something “new” to your ears—and, more than anything, surprise that this could still be possible in 2007.

Inevitably, a guy who, in his press kit, makes references ranging from Pierre Menard to Borges must be a friend. And not a simple one—Rise Above , produced by Chris “Grizzly Bear” Taylor, was written because of Dave’s fixation on Black Flag’s 1981 release Damaged. Rise Above was a hyper-personal “reinterpretation”, since it was done entirely from memory, after Longstreth unearthed the empty album cover of his youth from his parents’ attic…. The two albums have song titles in common, and a certain punk rage, re-adapted to the time through vengeful and hallucinogenic lyrics. The rest, of course, measures itself against the yardstick of musical evolution of the last thirty years, full of African rhythms, as well as variations on Gregorian chants and welcome lyrical explosions.

The first song of this Take-Away Show was started almost as a challenge—a traffic cop yells at young law-breakers who had committed who-knows-what offense, and Dave throws himself on his back, screaming bloody murder and his anti-Authority tirade. The cop didn’t seem to flinch, but she clearly knew that she was the target of the only real light on the corner. Amber and Angel’s voices mix and don’t back down during the hour-plus that the performance of these three angels lasts, surrounded by two other small creatures, taken into the band’s orbit as if they were weightless.

Among them the brunette Angel, a little devil too, whom we met three days earlier during a session with Sebastian “Inlets”. Her music absolutely makes the detour worth it for her, as if all of this little world had been touched by a grace communicated by bodies and sounds. Sitting on the stairs at the entrance of a New York building, her duet with Amber on the magic “Gimme Gimme” is already in my personal pantheon of the most surprising moments of the year.

Dave Longstreth reminds me of David Byrne, to the point that I have to ask him if they had some kind of distant relation. In this simple moment on “Gimme Gimme”, his head movement is strongly reminiscent of the flamboyant Byrne of “Stop Making Sense”. All the rest would be in keeping with the image: sometimes a face hidden under a military hood, walking by a McDonalds with a disarming ease, a disordered and failed attempt to take over a dog park, an opportune meeting with a fan from the first hour of the detour… a melody, a simple New York ballad so light that one almost forgets the violence of Dave the animal. A man who treats the street like his sandbox, crushing the toys of neighboring kids. We had imagined the Take-Away Shows thinking of Arcade Fire, but dreaming of Dirty Projectors.

And there you have it. I tried to hide it for several weeks, but here, after these few lines, it’s even less possible: I like Dave Longstreth and his Dirty Projectors like the burst of lightning falling on a grey street, like a close friend I haven’t yet met. But as for this text, which is a little too ecstatic and effusive—I think it’s also the sweater’s fault.

Translated by Caitlin Caven