February 24, 2005

LCD Soundsystem

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Yes, that is four stars staring back at you, but mark the rating with an asterisk. New Jersey’s LCD Soundsystem — the stage name for grizzled DFA tyrant James Murphy — has packaged together one intermittently brilliant album (3 stars) and one perfect singles compilation ranging from 2002 to the present (5 stars). The latter is so visionary that it’s almost certainly the best release of the year so far and perhaps one of the best compilations of the past decade.

As a producer and performer, Murphy is one of the few musicians who can persuasively argue that he began the recent resurgence of the word “post-punk,” the mysterious term given to disco/funk-influenced rock bands in the early 1980s (such as Gang of Four, A Certain Ratio and The Pop Group). Murphy’s early singles conformed to that addictive nostalgia for the era between emancipatory punk and watered-down new-wave. But Murphy’s other interests emerged soon thereafter, injecting his singles with stunning litanies of influences: psychedelic garage, experimental noise, throbbing dub, deep funk, ’80s hip-hop, ’90s R&B and, most notably, Detroit techno and British house.

These intoxicating compounds found immediate favor among dance-starved rockers and rock-starved dancers, eventually spurring intriguing solicitations from the likes of Britney Spears and Janet Jackson. It was a surprising turn of events for someone whose first hit name-checks such marginalized obscurities as This Heat and The Index.

Anyone who has visited a metropolitan club or listened to college radio will be familiar with “Losing My Edge,” “Beat Connection” and “Yeah (Crass Version),” singles that seamlessly merge arch pop satire, meteoric beats and taut funk. They’re seductive, chilling, hilarious, and exasperating in the best possible way. “Yeah (Crass Version),” in particular, may be the best dance song this reviewer has heard in nearly two decades, nine minutes that channel Kraftwerkian neon synths, sweltering static, noir brass flourishes, contracting chimes and bleating cowbells. It’s feels less like a mere song than an exhaustive capitulation of the entire history of dance music from Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown and Kool Herc through Derrick May, Aphex Twin and Outkast.

It would be nearly impossible to further enhance these combustible masterpieces and, luckily, the full-length album doesn’t really try. Instead, Murphy isolates and exaggerates the components of his hit singles. Thus, we get “Movement,” a plasmatic paean to The Fall and XTRMNTR-era Primal Scream; “Tribulations,” an occasionally dull reverberation rather obviously influenced by New Order and The Human League; and “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up,” a sterling iteration of solo George Harrison (though Murphy can’t avoid sounding like a doubly sarcastic Stephen Malkmus).

They’re always at least marginally entertaining, but there’s hardly an incentive for repeat listening. Why waste your time remembering pastiches of the genres that are mere particles in the seething potions of “Beat Connection” or “Tired”?

Archived article by Alex Linhardt
Sun Arts & Entertainment Associate Editor