LCD’s nuts: James Murphy and Co. deliver another stunning album

American Dream‘s album-opening song is not “Dance Yrslf Clean”.

Because the awesome, impossibly huge synths kick in about three minutes earlier on “Oh Baby” which seems destined to rank among the upper echelon of LCD Soundsystem songs despite the impossibly tough standard set by its predecessor.

The notes are deeper and less frenetic than on LCD’s last side-one, track-one, but the crunchy tone is the same.

Then James Murphy is cooing comforting phrases and shimmering keys enter the fray. Quickly, whatever concerns you have that  8 years away from the improbably cool post-rock-dance-punk indie icons may have dulled their penchant for cranking out classics melt away.

You’ll even forget about the terrible album cover, which I’ve lovingly recreated in MS paint below.

AmericanDream.jpg

And rightfully so, because this is a damn good album.

But quality concerns are replace by other anxieties in the more paranoid second track, andfor most of the rest of the album, there’s a whole new slate of anxieties to contend with.

Any album titled American Dream was bound to have a dark undercurrent given the current climate , and by the time a group vocals shout, “resisting other voices” over a cowbell-infused dance groove it’s clear that the mellow opener was a bit of a fake out.

Aging, dying, reconciling a shared human condition with wildly disparate points of view and a general malaise creep in from around the edges.

Of course, Murphy first broke through with “Losing My Edge”, so if anyone can make those themes sound like a party, it’s him.

And he does just that by employing tricks honed over the past three albums,

“Tonite” is a robotic Daft Punkian jam that bluntly and positively addresses mortality in its first minute. It’s “Losing my Edge” taken to its logical conclusion and crossed with a hefty dose of “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and a dash of “You Wanted a Hit” sneer.

“Change Yr Mind” is a depressive “Us V Them” that doesn’t sacrifice much in regards to beats per minute. It adds some interesting screeches to the classic LCD click-track thing with lyrics about being a shut-in, and has a familiar misspelling in the title.

“How Do You Sleep” is a 9-minute epic that starts slow and adds layers a la “All of My Friends” but those layers end up including a synth line that works its way into your bones like “Dance Yrslf Clean”.

“Emotional Haircut” is the best possible version of the “Drunk Girls” model of LCD Soundsystem song. It’s a guitar spazz built around a dumb phrase, but I actually like it a lot more this time around.

Really, if I had to say a bad thing about American Dream, it’s that I think fans of the band will find it a bit self-referential.

“Oh, look, it’s LCD Soundsystem and they’re doing an LCD Soundsystem thing.”

But the synthesis of past ideas and tackling weighty topics is so deft and so good, it didn’t bother me.

It’s sort of the platonic ideal of LCD Soundsystem, and an hour-plus listen goes by really, really smoothly.

I’m not positive because I’ve only given the album two spins, but I don’t think there’s a track I would put in my personal top 3 LCD songs, but I think it is the LCD Soundsystem I could listen to the most in its entirety.

American Dream is superb. It’s everything I love about one of my favorite bands, but it’s a little darker, the commentary is more pointed and the portions are positively epic.

 

 

The Third Worst Band of All Time?

I recently saw LA Weekly’s list of the 20 worst bands of all time. Of course click-bait lists with superlatives in the title are meant to incite a reaction and generate activity in the comments section. Despite this knowledge, I still found myself incensed by the band which came in at no. 3 on the list, LCD Soundsystem.

I love LCD Soundsystem,but I  realize it is probably safe to say no music is loved universally. Not even the Beatles carry a 100 percent approval rating, so it’s easy to see how music often genre-tagged as dance-punk isn’t for everyone.

The distinction of being what LA Weekly considers to be the third worst band ever also came with a brief paragraph explaining the ranking, so I decided to read exactly why I was so wrong in holding the music of LCD Soundsystem in high opinion.

If LCD Soundsystem were only responsible for three albums that are half-filler and a “workout mix” made by people who clearly don’t go to the gym — for people who don’t go to the gym themselves — they wouldn’t be on this list. No, they deserve special mention for the critical crusade to pass James Murphy off as indie rock’s preeminent male role model in spite of, nay, because of his worldview which remains as rigid and obnoxious as Toby Keith’s. It is, roughly, that music achieved perfection in 1977, no one outside of New York City is important, and your interaction with credibility and its overseers is a bigger concern than learning how not to be an insufferable, self-obsessed jerk. In other words, LCD Soundsystem fans are the type of people who think buying their 10-year old kid a Public Image Ltd. record for his birthday is an example of good parenting. -Ian Cohen

It’s one thing to dislike a band’s music, and it’s another thing to take a reductionist-stance on someone’s body of work and bash a band without doing any sort of due diligence. That paragraph made me angry on so many different levels, that I would like to debunk as much of it as humanly possible.

My first point of contention with Cohen’s description of LCD Soundsystem’s body of work is the idea that LCD’s three studio albums are mostly dispensable. Arguing that LCD Soundsystem’s eponymous debut double-album is bloated would be an entirely defensible position. The next two albums in LCD’s canon are both a lean nine songs in length. Neither album contains 4 expendable songs.

Cohen’s next knock on LCD Soundsystem is that James Murphy would have the gall to produce a long-form workout mix while not being the pinnacle of physical health. James Murphy, the singer-songwriter-producer behind LCD Soundsystem, has admitted the song in question was not the workout mix it was marketed as. Murphy said “45:33” was primarily an experiment with long-form songwriting.

Finally, Cohen dismisses Murphy’s lyrical worldview as anachronistic, plagued by East Coast bias and  slavishly dedicated to old school critical conventions. This suggests to me that Cohen completely missed the point of LCD Soundsystem’s breakthrough, “Losing My Edge”.

“Losing My Edge” is essentially an indictment of the old metrics for judging what is cool. It’s a tongue-in-cheek laundry list of observations and tastes that would have made Murphy the focal point of any group of self-important people 20 years earlier. Murphy’s point is that it doesn’t matter. A new generation of scenesters is always waiting in the wings to cannibalize old trends and appoint a different set of bands as seminal.

Also, describing Murphy’s lyrics as New York-centric is somewhat accurate, but it is incorrect to say he is entirely indifferent to anything happening outside of Manhattan Island. Again, one only needs to look to LCD Soundsystem’s first single to see Cohen is off base. “Losing My Edge” references almost ever influential band imaginable, not just every influential New York band. Plus, it is worth considering that songs such as “All of My Friends” and “I Can Change” primarily concern themselves with universal sentiments. Furthermore, the one LCD Soundsystem song with New York in it’s title actually pokes fun at the metropolis Murphy holds so dear.

Music that melds together afrobeat-inspired dance grooves and wry, post-punk lyrics is going to inspire plenty of detractors and vitriol, but to dismiss LCD Soundsystem based on the logic on display in LA Weekly’s list is wrong. It’s fine to dislike LCD Soundsystem, but to seemingly hate them for reasons that are categorically wrong seems ignorant at best, and intentionally incorrect in an effort to court controversy and elicit page views at worst.