An amateur’s eye rarely registers abstract art upon its’ maiden gaze. All aesthetic at first, what skill, touch, contrasting calm and chaos, and emotion that often lie at the heart of a modern piece can be easily lost if one lacks the understanding on where to find it. Not surprisingly, The Dirty Projectors’ Rise Above(Dead Oceans) presents a hard case for the fact that the same can be said of the extreme sect of experimental music these days. So forgive me if these words hardly sound accredited; I am no expert when it comes to the elegant mess of grooves, beats, harmonies, melodies, and other catastrophic soundings that one can expect to hear flailing around in the 11 songs Rise Above offers. Though, as the listening experience that surrounds the album evolves play after play, that may not always be the case; plenty is eventually revealed in Rise Above.
A maverick musician forging his way through musical terrain most musicians wouldn’t dare navigate, David Longstreth is a schizophrenic bandit, robbing the listener of all expectations. It’s ok though; anticipation won’t do you any good when it comes to this intuitious recreation of Black Flag’s 1981 Damaged album. Relying on memory alone, Longstreth borrows acid rock, folk freakouts, fusion and funk, jazzy interludes, pieces of psychedelia, and even small relishes of reggae to create his artful tribute. And his blasting vocals – the kind which are tossed around the mix regardless of what is happening underneath them, are some of the boldest you’ll ever hear. Whether that is courage or carelessness…I suppose that depends on the listener’s taste. But they are there, and, what’s more, they are matched almost equally by a flurry of consistent, choruses.
Rise Above is not for everyone. It may be too odd, too fragmented, to noisy or too soft (depending on the moment). But for those willing to gaze into the bull in the china shop’s eyes, The Dirty Projectors offer something rewarding. Like Howard Roark tumbling his own buildings in The Fountainhead, you get the feeling Longstreth longs for the destruction of indie rock’s little rules for cool. So, he crumbles his own work. Clearly, these songs were never originally written in this way (regardless of the fact that they are, after all, covers). But it is almost as if those original sketches or demos, however they sounded, probably couldn't hold his outrageous voice. So he blew them all to hell. And like Roark’s tower, a rather gallant effort rises from the rubble. - David Pitz