Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Dave Longstreth has been guilty of it, guilty of it again and again, so the story - all firsthand, none of the cribbed meanderings - goes. He's been rattled with what started as a nostalgic romp into the wooded past, as part of a light spring cleaning, turned into a memory assignment or trial or exercise for wisps of recollection, whatever would stick and became nothing short of a full-body haunting - with trilling entry music, cobwebs and flashing visions of distressing make-believe.
Longstreth, the leader of Brooklyn's Dirty Projectors and a man who last week was named by the Village Voice as a pick for being something like NYC's Best Live Version Of A Person Who Looks Satanic When They Play Their Guitar And Sing Their Songs In Front Of Real People, took a wild, off the tracks idea about recreating a Black Flag record from 1981 from memory - no refreshers since the last time he heard the cassette tape a decade or more ago - and made a piece of art that's striking in its scope and execution.
Rise Above, the band's latest full-length, has gone ahead and taken all of the bloodied knuckled aggression and angst that can only be described as mindful and blistering - angst that is of a certain age group and fundamentally warranted - and transformed it into a variation of argument that is constructed more with sugar cubes (albeit venomous sugar cubes) and layers of more church choir than back alley. He's admitted to sinking himself into the characters that dot Damaged, the punks that need something to bitch and moan about and find more than enough material to satisfy their complaint quotient. It's almost always about oppression and the rigors of growing up when no one seems to understand what the fuck you're all about and what the fuck you do or could possibly ever stand for.
The characters in the songs that Black Flag rampaged through with unstoppable spit and honesty were not even the degenerates, they were just the kids with the foresight and the backbone - the kids in the tight jeans and black tees who knew early on that they wanted to be their own bosses. There wasn't much equality to be seen so they vented, audibly and loud enough to start wildfires with a word or two. Longstreth has taken over the skins of these angry kids, becoming the guy who can't get a girl to touch him the right way, becoming the guy who's lone consolation is that six pack of beer that he's got to get him through another miserable night of self-loathing and world bashing. He dips into these places and the way in which he sings these characters of varying degrees of insipidity (most are one-dimensional, with one-track minds) makes them radiate with a new lifeblood. They're more powerful in the kind of jittery, exploratory, reasonable(?) manner that Longstreth shows them.
When the original characters talk about wanting to live, it's an order and when Longstreth and angelic bandmates Amber Coffman and Angel Deradoorian sing it, it's a prayer. Brian Mcomber laces everything with that dancing beat, but the record (or the illusion of the original record as this one could fairly be called) is more about soul-searching that it was ever intended. Or maybe it was always supposed to be about plumbing to get to the bottom of all of the disturbances that pile-drive us daily and for decades - a real think piece about the unforgiving part about collecting calendar pages - the realization that moving from one day to the next is about pack-ratting, whether you like it or not.
You keep with you all of the things that have ever made you mad and you keep with you all of the things that ever made you okay. They get lighter, bleach themselves out as they age inside, but you can't throw away the collection. The burden of going through the motions is just what we do most of the time and it's incredible to see someone - that being Longstreth - not going through them, in his music or in his life. If he really does look like pandemonium or a resident of the palace of pandemonium in dirty flannel and Indian blankets when he's out in front of a crowd, maybe that makes him a hero. It's nice to see someone become an animal.