LCD Soundsystem – american dream
James Murphy is 47. He’s one of the biggest musicians on the planet. And, if american dream is anything to go by, life’s not as easy as we might expect. It’s filled with anxieties, broken hearts, personal scores to settle and bones to pick with popular culture.
And, from start to finish, it’s evidence that electronic music can be every bit as emotionally affecting as the most brooding of folk or rock acts.
LCD Soundsystem’s fourth album is in many ways more of the same from Murphy and his cohorts. It’s that same dark, not-quite-clubby, electro-punk, packed with hypnotic beats and bass lines and glorious vintage synths. You know, the stuff you loved about them before they split up.
When ‘how do you sleep’ kicks in, it sounds like a perfect musical companion to 2011’s ‘Dance Yrself Clean’.
The thick, irrepressible grooves of ‘other voices’ might tempt you onto the dancefloor. It’s Afrobeat by way of Talking Heads’ Remain In Light, with Murphy helped out by the brilliant Nancy Whang on vocals.
Murphy’s often wry observations on youth, aging, music, clubbing, relationships, partying and loss have been astute since first single ‘Losing My Edge’ slapped us across the face 15 years ago. But he’s refined his skill as a lyricist even further with the tracks here.
‘oh baby’ is a slow and sad opener that, tonally, prepares us for the insular, intimate journey Murphy’s about to take us on. At first, it’s meant to sound comforting, but it ends up depressing and verging on disturbing.
‘i used to’ is a heartbreaking ode to someone – assumedly a lover – from those glory days in the clubs. Someone who opened Murphy up to a new world. Someone who’s not there anymore.
‘tonite’ is a brilliantly incisive takedown of the culture surrounding much of modern music. A rallying cry to his audience to take everything the artists they love sing about with a grain of salt. It’s an intelligent but completely cutting way of approaching a topic so constantly dealt with poorly.
As usual the songs sit somewhere between the rugged suaveness of Bryan Ferry, the anarchic noise of Suicide and the hip shaking disco-punk of ESG.
Dissonant guitar squalls add a sense of anxiety to the depressive groove of ‘change yr mind’ and flurrying drums lend urgency to ‘emotional haircut’, while the album’s closing track ‘black screen’ is a dour 12 minute tribute to David Bowie, who ‘fell between a friend and a father’ to Murphy, which ends with a sorrowful four minute piano solo.
The starkness of ‘how do you sleep?’ makes it sound nightmarish, as Murphy riles against a former friend. Its brutal synth bass begins to pummel into your head as he sings, ‘You're painted into a corner / Whatever fits in your pockets; you'll get your due / Just like before’. It’s brutal.
Murphy’s ability to elicit emotion has never been stronger than on american dream. There are fewer dancefloor moments than before, and nothing as immediately digestible as a ‘Tribulations’, ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ or even ‘Drunk Girls’. But just about all of these songs come across as his most meaningful yet.
The initial cynicism some felt around LCD Soundsystem’s reformation was completely understandable. Their swansong was so immense that to return just a couple of years later seemed insolent. But american dream is so good that, if you haven’t forgiven them already, you absolutely must now.