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The Sounds of LCD Soundsystem

and | Thursday, January 14, 2016

scene_webJanice Chung | The Observer

“We’re playing all over. We’re not just having some reunion tour. We’re releasing a record (sometime this year—still working on it, actually), so this isn’t a victory lap or anything, which wouldn’t be of much interest to us.”

These are not words you would expect to hear from the lead singer of a band that had an excessive, ceremonial end five years ago. James Murphy posted the above as part of a letter to fans on LCD Soundsystem’s website on Jan. 5. After the band’s 2011 break-up and impending final shows, the release of a live record version of their last concert and a documentary, the news was a welcome surprise to fans and a bittersweet bite to those who spent and invested lots of emotions money at the over three-hour-long farewell show.

However, Murphy is ready to deal with the backlash. After coming up with more songs in 2015 than he ever had in his life, he says that needed an outlet. He addressed his options in the letter, “…3. make an lcd record with your friends, who want to make said record, and deal with whatever fall-out together. 4. don’t make music, to avoid the horrors of all of the above. 5. make music and, like, hide it somewhere. we decided, clearly, on option 3.”

The reunion’s timing comes at an important time for the ever-evolving homunculus of pop music, with artists like Carly Rae Jepsen releasing perfectly produced bubblegum pop that appeals more to music critics than radio airwaves and PC Music pushing the electronic pop noise boundaries, more of LCD Soundsystem’s post punk, alternative dance just makes sense.

During their original run, it was hard not to read a review of an LCD album that did not name drop at least 7 artists in sound comparisons, while critics nevertheless uniquely defined their music as “Indie New Wave Punk Rock Dance Pop.” Their eclectic styling, enhanced by unique, tangible sound equipment and an aversion to the digital, drew from the past and furthered the present of the industry. Their relevancy stretches so far that Scene Writer Matt Munhall recently described One Direction as the “LCD Soundsystem of boy bands,” referencing both bands’ acute self-awareness and retirements while on top.

The LCD Soundsystem reunion came as a surprise to many, but, much like huge influence David Bowie’s recent death, there were hints in hindsight. Fittingly, in a Pitchfork article on Bowie’s upcoming “Blackstar” James Murphy was referenced as a collaborator on percussion, while album producer Tony Visconti said, in reference to Murphy, “he was there for a brief time, but he had his own projects to go off to.”

The band’s reunion was first announced in conjunction with Coachella’s 2016 line-up, the California-based music festival that has garnered a reputation for staging reunion acts as headliners: The Pixies (2004), My Bloody Valentine (2009) and OutKast (2015). (Writer Jessica Gentile jokingly predicted the reunion via a tweet at their last show in 2011: “2 hours in and LCD are killing it! Can’t wait to see them again at the reunion at Coachella in 2016.”) We are excited to hear what LCD Soundsystem will come up with in 2016. As LCD’s residential segment of the music industry has only become more experimental and saturated since their last album in 2010, there will surely be more boundaries pushed and more influences drawn upon and referenced. However, before we look ahead to their upcoming release, we are taking some time to reflect on what came before.

“Losing My Edge/Beat Connection” (2002)

Does it get better than this?

So often, new artists release a masterpiece of a debut record and fail to reach the same heights ever again: Arcade Fire, Interpol, The Strokes, Bloc Party, the Stone Roses, the list goes on. James Murphy’s first foray as LCD Soundsystem set an almost impossibly high bar for future releases. “Losing My Edge/Beat Connection” takes no time in assembling an ensemble of signature elements and crafting them into propulsive, timely dancefloor anthems. The electronic-acoustic drum attack, the irresistible grooves, the tasteful synth riffs and the brilliantly witty lyrics that would come to define LCD Soundsystem’s sound in future records are all at their best here. “Losing My Edge” is an emotionally charged plea for relevance in a music scene that refuses to age with Murphy. “Beat Connection” is a straightforward but absolutely dynamite dance-rock crescendo that sets fire to any hipster dancefloor. A marvelous start to the LCD discography.

“LCD Soundsystem” (2005)

Coming three years after “Losing My Edge,” LCD Soundsystem’s debut full-length record was not so much a fall as a stumble. Like much dance music, the problem with Murphy’s work is that it simply works better in a single format. Crescendos, energy and ideas contained in individual songs often don’t benefit from being forced into the context of a larger whole. Of course, if the individual songs on a record are good, then the record will at least end up the sum of those parts. In the wake of “Losing My Edge/Beat Connection”, however, the songs on LCD Soundsystem’s debut simply don’t fulfill the promise of Murphy’s precursory singles. That isn’t to say the record doesn’t have its moments; “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” is classic LCD Soundsystem name-checking fun, and with “Great Release” James Murphy crafted a beautiful ambient pop song that’s unlike anything else in his repertoire. Thankfully, there was more — and better — to come.

“Sound of Silver” (2007)

Their 2007 album comes in at just seven songs and presented a consolidated, pointed direction for the band. The climax on opening track “Get Innocuous!” lasts for 2 minutes and 10 seconds before any words are uttered; finally, self-aware, tilted lyrics juxtapose the rushing crescendos in a statement that roughly translates into “Lets’ Get Bland/Boring/Insipid.” The opening features a loud beat echoed by a more apathetic one, embodying the excitement for lethargy addressed in the self-deprecating title. Murphy’s jerky, scratchy vibrato — that elevates into Michael Jackson “Eeeeh” territory throughout the album —  sneers over the synthetic electro-noise produced by the band’s iconic equipment.

The lyrics on the album mark the first time LCD didn’t adlib at the studio. The results are haunting. Distinctly, “All My Friends” addresses Murphy’s mid-life crisis that resonates amongst college students all too well. As covered in Scene’s “Final Five,” a piece on the last five songs each staff member would choose to listen to before death, the lyrics draw on the important things in life: relationships, memories, the present. Lines like “You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan / And the next five years trying to be with your friends again” haven’t lost an ounce of truth. The rushed nature of the keyboard mimic society’s fast-paced, future-focused lifestyle as Murphy reminds us not to waste our lives. One of the unique things, of which there are countless, about LCD Soundsystem is that they can take a big, scary idea (“All My Friends” has brought tears to my eyes on many occasions) and pack it into an incredibly moving dance track, both sonically and lyrically. The songs on “Sound of Silver” overwhelm the senses and numb any woes as the dancing synths push you into oblivion. Pulsing. Clanking. Shaking. Dancing. Like with many of Murphy’s most poignant lines, less says more.

“This Is Happening” (2010)

Again, LCD manages to literalize the figurative concept of dancing through life, beginning the album with demands that you “Dance Yrself Clean,” a title fittingly written like an email from your vowel-averse dad, as hicuppy clatters and twirly flute-like electronic noises float across the track. The repeated “ahhh”s and the wedding march-esque synths further the dad metaphor as Murphy leads you up the aisle to an altar that will convert you to a new religion with its buzzy, floor erasing synth entering just after three minutes.

The album’s first two tracks, “Dance Yrself Clean” and “Drunk Girls,” are distinctly digestible. From then on it is as if the listener is sucked into a black hole hovering at the intersection of old and new. Significantly, the album acutely resembles 80s rock bands: Murphy mirrors Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan’s stoic delivery on “One Touch,” David Byrne’s yearning enunciation on “Pow Pow” and everything from Gary Numan to Bauhaus in the instrumentals. The middle tracks form a sort of conversation as Murphy struggles with melancholic, heartbroken desires on “All I Want,” (“All I want is your pity / All I want are your bitter tears”), conciliatory negotiations on “I Can Change” (“I can change if it helps you fall in love”) and others’ expectations on “You Wanted A Hit” (electric fairy noises dance around the demands, refusing to make way for words and, hence, anything “hit-worthy”: “You wanted a hit / But maybe we don’t do hits” Murphy croons to some clapping he adds to the track, the ultimate self-validation).

The lyrics in the album’s lead single “Pow Pow” now seem to have foreshadowed Murphy’s recent letter: “Because I have stayed home and have learned a little more about my neighbourhood, which is important / You know, there’s a lot of good places to eat”…. “I have been untied…. And I’m coming back, coming back, coming back.” Even his more cryptic lyrics still ring true.

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I'm Scene's editor and a senior Marketing & Journalism student. To quote the exquisite Sadie Dupuis, "I'm not bossy — I'm the boss."

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