Greg Ginn may get songwriting credit for this suite of Flag tunes, already well-known as a Pierre Menard-style version of Damaged culled purely from memory, but anyone familiar with Dave Longstreth will recognize this is a purely formal conceit. Damaged isn't exactly reworked here; it's more accurate to say that Damaged’s fragmented idealism and potent death drive (which seem deeply naive now, but in its own context, a matter of basic survival) are miraculously resuscitated here by the magical force of Longstreth & Co.'s melismatic breath. The result is one of the most formally radical indie records in recent memory. It also happens to be Dirty Projectors’ all-around best, not least because it most closely recreates the kinetic force of their live performances.
It's difficult to say whether or not Dirty Projectors, taken as a whole, are better enjoyed in context or out of it. Even more difficult would be to say, exactly, what that context is. In the 27 years since Greil Marcus noted that rock had become much too large for any artist to be a matter of consensus, there have been many productive miscegenations, but easily as much parochialism. The demographic homogeneity of indie is well noted, if not necessarily widely discussed; participation in the genre in whatever form (reviewing, say) reestablishes a baseline level of consensus necessary for the music's apparatus to continue its operations relatively unnoticed. Dirty Projectors don't communicate their ideas by force or finesse, inhabiting instead an intermediate segment between these poles; the result, a constant passage back and forth between historiography and ideologically-laden "aesthetics," operates as if rockism were beside the point. Most importantly, while there are major indie bands whose lyrics (in narrative structure, descriptive acuity and sheer volume) transparently draw from rap, there are very few who draw from contemporary Hip Hop/R&B like Dirty Projectors. But drawing a web of references from the dense tissue of the 10 tracks that make up Rise Above is definitely beside the point; the album functions instead as an index of the band's distance from history, or at least how that term is generally taught and understood.
"Police Story" is an example of a band providing its own context; rather than transposing the story (direct confrontation with the police seems like a quaint, possibly naive idea now) or its setting, the whole idea of the song (not the ideas in the song, but the notion that it exists) is completely indigenized. The song boasts what is probably the album’s most epic vocal flourish; rather than a neat parody or ironic aping of Mariah Carey or Christina Aguilera’s primary vocal tic, it temporarily suspends the familiar “us v. them” story in favor of the pleasure of the voice itself, its peculiar and somehow momentarily sexless timbre: a textural, glossolaliac pleasure that threatens to melt the song’s circuitry. This is perhaps a capsule account of the band’s appeal: the fact that Longstreth does not take the oppositional status of classical (present as a kind of spectral take on baroque) and Top 40 for granted.
To say that Dave Longstreth can't play anyone else's music is a loaded statement, but for anyone who's seen Projectors live, it's also mostly true. Within indie rock, the historiography approach mentioned above relates to a kind of gate-storming by which a band acts as a genre-transistor, amplifying, distorting, making a genre push against its boundaries in spectacular fashion, but with the assurance that the walls won't fall. Particularly in their current incarnation, Dirty Projectors' approach seems to consist of initially gaining oddball access to the genre, then successively folding the genre back on itself to the point that what formerly were lineages, alliances and limit lines become eradicated, or at least thoroughly confused, by their superimposition. In terms of Dirty Projectors’ own discography, Longstreth has never fully and consistently provided both his own structures and the means for experiencing them quite like he does on Rise Above.