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A triumphant return, LCD Soundsystem’s ‘American Dream’ flourishes in honesty

| Monday, September 4, 2017

americandreamWEBJOSEPH HAN | The Observer

It’s been seven years since LCD Soundsystem released a new album, yet considering the breakup, better late than never. After a gaudy farewell show, a documentary and a live album, James Murphy — the mastermind behind the band — and company finally return to assert themselves as the 40-something monarchs of electronic indie rock. “American Dream,” released late last week, is not the work of a band cashing in on its legacy; it is a new chapter for old friends.

The album opens with “oh baby,” featuring Murphy crooning over crystalline synth arpeggios and a lazy fuzz bass and shuffle groove. Murphy welcomes us back like an estranged lover and comforts us, yet he never promises to stay. “other voices” exemplifies Murphy’s ability to ramble over dense, evolving dance instrumentals — at times practically shouting — and make it into art. The varied song structure and stream of consciousness writing are distinctly reminiscent of “Pow Pow,” a track off the group’s previous record “This Is Happening.” Following the mania, “i used to” opens with a fat old-school drum and bass pattern that propels the entire track as atmospheric synths hang in the background. Murphy’s vocals sound frightened and haggard, repeating “I’m still trying to wake up” before a guitar solo cuts him off. The solo breaks LCD’s tradition of abstract, feedback-laden guitars in favor of something more musical. For “change yr mind,” Murphy turns confrontational, arguing with himself with an almost Bowie-esque delivery over twitchy drums and dissonant guitar riffs reminiscent of a Talking Heads record. On “how do you sleep?” huge cinematic drums and a sparse string arrangement make Murphy sound like an action hero as he sings, “standing on the shore, facing east.” The tension slowly builds until about the 3:30 mark when a classic LCD chip-synth and kick-drum loop blast the track into pure catharsis. Eventually, a shifty live kit joins the mix, and Murphy proves unequivocally that LCD has not lost a beat in its hiatus.

Starting with “tonite,” the three singles released earlier this year comprise tracks six through eight of “American Dream,” with “tonite” being easily the best stand-alone song of the group. Murphy delivers playful and honest lyrics over a dance track that combines the best of afrobeat, late-era funk, and early EDM. “call the police” returns to a simple, feel-good rock sound straight out of the early ’80s. The track may be the closest LCD has ever come to an alt-rock anthem, complete with vocal harmonies and another guitar solo.

The title track opens with cascading synths as Murphy drops in to croon about waking up the morning after the party. Murphy makes full use of his maturity as an artist here, delivering somber, bittersweet lyrics with occasional doo-wop backings. “emotional haircut” parts ways with nearly all of LCD’s work with an uneasy bass and drum line reminiscent of Joy Division’s 1980 album “Closer.” However, Murphy’s simple vocal lines brighten the dystopian instrumental he commands. Often, Murphy must scream just to be heard above the exploding guitars on this already essential track.

“black screen” returns to a minimalist electronic sound: Detuned synths and a single drum loop drive the track from start to finish while Murphy gives his most defeatist performance yet. Lyrically, the song chronicles Murphy’s relationship with David Bowie — a man credited with convincing Murphy to reunite LCD — and is the final of many Bowie/Brian Eno flourishes throughout the rest of the album. The album closes with a beautiful piano solo over a droning synth, a ambience that acutely reflects a newfound musical honesty, creating one of the most beautiful moments in LCD’s discography.

Thematically, this is LCD’s best album, and the narrative Murphy creates is a shocking display of unironic frankness. Murphy puts everything on full display for the fans on “American Dream,” and it’s admirable considering the post-breakup fallout. Musically, I would have liked for more diversity and innovation, but this album is admittedly bigger and more refined than their previous work. Despite the lack of huge drop moment—  save the one on “how do you sleep?” — throughout the album, it continues to grow on me after every listen. Murphy delivered; LCD Soundsystem is back.

Artist: LCD Soundsytem

Album: “American Dream”

Label: DFA Records/Columbia

Favorite Tracks: “tonite”, “how do you sleep?,” “emotional haircut”

If you like: Miike Snow, Ibibio Sound Machine, David Bowie, Arcade Fire

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

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