Dave Longstreth—essentially the Dirty Projector—is wandering among sidewalk traffic in Manhattan with an acoustic guitar, a two-woman chorus, and a small camera crew from La Blogotheque's Take Away Show. The city's crowds, clothes, and budding trees date the performance to a mid-spring weekday. The Brooklynite's got the look of someone who just woke up on a living-room floor and the crooked smile of someone, maybe, still a little bit drunk from the night prior. With the persona of a minstrel, he strolls through Greenwich Village, singing and playing. This being New York, he's avoided by everyone but tourists. Even with his shadow choir—deftly harmonized and stunningly attractive—he's just another freak on the street.

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Longstreth's playing Black Flag songs—"Police Story," "Gimme Gimme Gimme," and "Six Pack"—classics reinterpreted from the L.A. hardcore band's oft-worshipped 1981 debut, Damaged (also the debut of Henry Rollins in Black Flag). The segment begins in a park with Longstreth and company doing the Dirty Projectors' version of "Police Story." In his patent-worthy style of warbling, frantic note chasing (imagine Morrissey on antidepressants), he sings, "This fucking city is run by pigs." Serenading a NYC cop from less than 10 feet away, he barely gets an annoyed glare.

Just another freak in the street, yes, but Longstreth's a freak with one of the best album concepts of the past decade.

Last year, Longstreth went back to his family home in upstate New York to clean out his childhood bedroom. He found the tape case for Damaged, a 20-year-old Henry Rollins shattering a mirror with his fist on the cover (no cover art since has said "hardcore" better). The case was empty, and Longstreth didn't bother looking for the tape. Rather, in the slot where it used to be, he saw the Dirty Projectors. So he re-created the album from memory: no track list, no lyrics sheet, no re-listening. Longstreth recorded 10 songs—5 shy of the original, proper Damaged, and notably absent the album's cornerstone track, "TV Party"—at that same house direct to four-track. The result is Rise Above, the sixth Dirty Projectors' release in as many years.

One could spend weeks lining up Rise Above and Damaged, picking out the differences: the (many, many) elaborations, the omissions, the "Longstreth is replacing the guitar entry here with a choir," and on and on. Ultimately, it's not worth the effort; the conceit is more elaborate than a fine-tooth analysis will reveal. Besides, the Dirty Projectors' reimagining isn't going to make a cultural dent in Damaged any more than They Might Be Giants recreating Criminal Minded would leave a bruise on the BDP original.

Damaged was dangerous and revolutionary. MCA cut the record's distribution before it even left the warehouse, tagging it (literally, with a sticker) "anti-parent." It was also genuine. "This city is run by fucking pigs" was honesty: In 1980 Black Flag watched their breakout show at Los Angeles's Whisky club dissolve into mayhem as the LAPD swarmed a crowd of ticket-holders with handcuffs and fists. If you happened to be in that crowd, hearing Longstreth's version of "Police Story" may hurt just as bad. His waifish lilt and quick-plucked beach guitar—a style tracing back to his prior release, New Attitude­—have nothing to do with Rollins' gnashing and growling.

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With Rise Above, Longstreth's bound to endear himself even further to the "out" indie crowd that's slowly been incorporating the Dirty Projectors into their lexicon (notably, Rise Above includes Chris Taylor and Christopher Bear of darlings-of-the-moment Grizzly Bear). It is, at its root, a masterful record, and another successful reinvention of the DPs (every time Longstreth emerges with something new, his arrangements shift—even his ever-so-precious voice). The tight, immaculate vocal weaves, the racing melodies, subtle orchestrations and minutely calculated moments of cacophony are such an obvious affront to Black Flag's clumsy, if soulful, outbursts that Rise Above is conceptual comedy.

But Damaged isn't the butt of the joke; Rise Above is simply too good on its own terms, too thoughtful, to be anything other than an act of affection. The attack is on something bigger. By going after Damaged, Longstreth adds at least one "fuck you" to an album built of them: a "fuck you" to the concept album. recommended