George Bush would love Dirty Projectors.
Hyped for the past few months via a yarn about Dirty Projectors’ Dave Longstreth seeing an empty cassette box for Black Flag’s Damaged album and deciding to record it’s songs as “re-imagined from memory”. As a fan of rock lore I love this story. It’s about as good as they come. And about as far from reality as possible.
Sure, Longstreth may have had some vague intention of using Damaged as a loose jumping off point for Dirty Projectors new album Rise Above. That part I don’t doubt at all. But he, in no way, has recreated the album from memory or otherwise. What he has done is hitch his bullshit wagon to the memory and reputation of a beloved album. He has stripped clean any semblance of coherence, thoughtfulness or urgency associated with it.
He has, in effect, used Damaged the way the Bush administration has used September 11, 2001.
He understands that even though most of his audience has never heard, much less absorbed completely, the 1981 Black Flag album they have certainly heard of it. They are aware of it’s reputation or, at least, that of Black Flag itself. Thus, with an audience willing to accept Longstreth as an authority in the matter he is free to wow them.
Already lauded by the only review showcase that matters in terms of sales (i.e. Pitchfork) and hundreds of other media outlets Rise Above has, so far, had precious few detractors. Why? It cannot be the case that those familiar with Damaged will find Rise Above a worthy companion. Further, it is doubtful that the people who will honestly enjoy this album are aware of exactly who Dirty Projectors apes; if they were, the bullshit alarm should have sounded by now.
Musically speaking, of course, this is nothing like Black Flag. It’s also not like, really, any other acoustic-y, vocal-y band happening right now. What it is like, however, (and so much so that I smell a rat) are African acts like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the artists found on The Indestructible Beat of Soweto and a few Sacred Harp pieces compiled by Alan Lomax.
So what Longstreth has done is use music from artists most of his audience is unlikely to have heard and, however loosely, align it with a group that is almost universally respected and admired, if almost totally unfamiliar to his target. In essence, he’s asking his audience to trust him.
And what does the Bush administration do? It propagates it’s own confusing, secret agenda via the further confusing (insofar as methodology is concerned) avenues of war, economic favoritism and fear while hitching it’s excuses to a national tragedy that a huge swath of United States citizens are nearly completely ignorant of. They are, in essence, asking us to trust them.
One need not have any particular love for Black Flag, or any particular ill will toward Longstreth, to see what’s going on here. And, to be sure, it’s a much more serious matter to start a war via the exploitation of tragedy than it is to hype an album via the exploitation of a bands memory. However, philosophically they are of the same moral code.
If a nations art is truly a reflection of it’s cultural and psychological state then, perhaps, Rise Above is the most relevant album so far this year. It was, after all, released on September 11.