LCD Soundsystem finds its ‘American Dream’ at Electric Lady Studios
Lucas Masin-Moyer | Tuesday, February 19, 2019
In June of 2017, I made my way down from my temporary home in Concord, New Hampshire, to New York to see LCD Soundsystem at Brooklyn Steel. This show — which I got into despite a brief fake ticket scare — staged about two-and-a-half months before the release of the band’s fourth album, “American Dream,” was being used, in part, as testing ground for new material off the album.
While the band, led by singer and multi-instrumentalist James Murphy, had recently released two singles from the album — “american dream” and “call the police” — it took the opportunity to debut two new songs that night which would also make their way onto the coming LP, “emotional haircut” and “tonite.”
Of these two songs, “tonite” — a frenetic, synth-heavy track about generational angst — stood out to me as particularly impressive.
But when the “tonite” was released as a single in August, I was left a little disappointed. Now don’t get me wrong, I loved “tonite” and the rest of “American Dream” when it was released, but the album version of “tonite” never quite fulfilled the expectations I had after hearing the song live. It was a little too polished, missing some of the chaotic, punk-like energy the band famously exhibits on stage.
With the release of LCD Soundsystem’s “Electric Lady Sessions,” I was finally able to hear “tonite,” along with much of the rest of “American Dream,” performed live.
“Electric Lady Sessions” consists of 12 songs recorded at Jimi Hendrix’s legendary Electric Lady Studios in New York, where everyone from The Clash to Taylor Swift to David Bowie has recorded music. Six of these songs come from “American Dream,” two from 2010’s “This is Happening,” one from 2007’s “Sound of Silver” and three covers.
Almost all the cuts from “American Dream” are infused with a new energy on this recording. As with “tonite,” “call the police” is now more frenetic, taking a song about the band’s insecurities — and the socio-political chaos during the early months of President Donald Trump’s time in power — and adding all the nervous energy they’ve felt in the two years since. Even more jagged and grating guitars on “emotional haircut” bring the track even closer to the status of post-punk classic, and the dark, overlapping synths on “i used to” soar in a way that those on the original recording never did, creating an even darker and atmospheric mood. Two of the “American Dream” cuts — namely, “american dream” and “oh baby” — largely resemble their counterparts on the album but still sound fantastic performed live.
But it may be the covers that LCD Soundsystem chose to record at Electric Lady Studios that stand out the most. The band’s cover of the Human League’s 1981 recording, “Seconds” starts the album. Though it largely mirrors the original, the song is slightly darker, and uses more distorted synths to craft a bleaker mood in a song about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. On the other two covers, multi-instrumentalist and backup vocalist Nancy Whang is given a chance to shine, taking over lead vocals on Chic’s “I Want Your Love,” and Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” The latter of these two tracks is a near perfect cover, with the lyrics updated to reflect the band’s distaste for Trump and the jagged guitar chords and dance beats LCD Soundsystem made their name on.
If the album has any weaknesses, it comes from the re-recordings of the band’s earlier material. While “home” pairs perfectly with “tonite” on the track listing and is as beautifully wistful as the original, both “get innocuous” and “you wanted a hit” fall a little flat compared to the original cuts.
Despite these shortcomings, “Electric Lady Sessions” is a triumph. The sessions capture all the raw energy of the band’s live shows, give the band an opportunity to embark on new territory with masterful covers and allow them to find all the shortcomings of “American Dream” and correct them, delivering even more engaging songs in the process.
- Artist: LCD Soundsystem
- Album: Electric Lady Sessions
- Label: Columbia Records
- Favorite Tracks: “tonite,” “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang,” “Seconds”
- If you like: David Bowie, Hot Chip, The Rapture
- Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5