James Murphy grew up with an idea of silver.
“My dad used to say, ‘Having a child is a permanent silver medal’, meaning that the best you can ever do for the rest of your life is second place,” he told Fact in 2007. “Because you just made something that, for your lifetime, has to be first place.”
When it came to making his group’s second album at the age of 36, Murphy knew it was time to step things up.
“The first record was a little beige, was a little 'safe,' This time around, we made the studio silver as a constant reminder to remember the glam rock, Chrome and DAF (German electropunk band Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft), the things that I think of as shiny music – T. Rex, Heaven 17 and Human League…Hawkwind, with 'Silver Machine.'"
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For triple j Mornings host, Zan Rowe, the New York outfit’s sophomore record made an important statement.
“Sound of Silver showed that James Murphy could make you cry while you were dancing. The humour and the heartbreak of this record still floors me today. These are the songs that I put on when I want to remember a friend lost. That I spin at midnight on New Year’s Eve with ‘All My Friends’ surrounding me, sparklers in the air as that seemingly endless piano intro builds and builds and builds.”
Murphy was more than a little unsure as to how this song would translate to audiences.
“‘All My Friends’, I didn’t know how people were going to react to it. I was a little embarrassed of it because I felt it was so melodic, I was really like ‘ahh this is too poppy’,” he explained in a Sound Opinions interview.
“I had a really hard time with that song. When it was done and then we started playing it I thought, ‘oh, ok. This is working’ and people really responded to it.
“It was, to a large degree, about having gone away on tour and missing [my] amazing group of friends in New York which, to me, is what DFA is and always has been. That group of friends and everything comes from it. [Friends who are] keeping you honest, forcing you to act like a better person.
“They can’t make you be a better person, you are who you are, but [they] keep you thinking about who you are when you go home, who you are when none of this touring stuff is there and who you are when the inevitable end of your career is there.”
Energetically, the song is influenced by a seminal post punk track.
"['All My Friends'] is purposefully trying to chase a feeling that I got from [Joy Division's] 'Transmission’,” Murphy told Mojo in 2007. “Because it's the same thing the whole way through, and without any kind of embarrassing rockist gesture.
“It starts off so gentle and becomes so fucking overwhelming. By the time he's going, 'Dance, dance, dance to the radio,' your head's exploding. And I wanted to see if I could make a song without people playing together. Just do it all myself by doing it in layers.”
And why does he think people connected so strongly with it?
"It's sad-ish, and people are old."
Getting older was something he was reluctantly and mockingly taking stock of in the title track, with its lyrics ‘Sound of silver talk to me, makes you want to feel like a teenager, until you remember the feelings of, a real life emotional teenager, then you think again.’
Elsewhere he was grappling with misguided perceptions of his country by Europeans (‘North American Scum’), his own conflicted feelings toward his hometown (‘New York I Love You, But Your Bringing Me Down’) and the loss of a significant someone (‘Someone Great’).
“Making Sound of Silver was very emotional at times, where I just hated making that record,” he told Clash in 2010.
With driving, layered, evolving soundscapes, and his often emotionally stretched and strained voice, Murphy took us into his stories and gave us an opportunity to see a little of ourselves in them too, something which Zan Rowe wholly embraced.
“Sound Of Silver proved that dance music can have depth too,” she says. “With stories, and sorrow. It reflects all that it means to be human, for better and worse.”