September 6, 2017

TEST SPIN | LCD Soundsystem — American Dream

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It has been nearly two years since the reformation of LCD Soundsystem, the Brooklyn-based dance-punk band led by James Murphy, critically- and commercially-rewarded for their searching, yet funny, lyrics and dense, mesmerizing beats. After announcing their return in the wake of a five-year hiatus begun by an aggressively-momentous farewell concert at Madison Square Garden, Murphy and his outfit quickly announced a series of high-profile festival appearances, including headlining Coachella, and also announced that a new album was in the works.

A lot of time has now passed since the album was promised. At an LCD Soundsystem concert I went to in June in their Brooklyn backyard, I couldn’t help but sense an increasing collective impatience among fans — especially after LCD had made such a fuss in 2011 about their dissolution being permanent. As much as we may gladly re-experience the somber, yet danceable, melancholy of LCD’s greatest triumphs – Sound of Silver (2007) and This is Happening (2010) – a lot has happened in seven years. And for those who, like me, can’t imagine the development of their own taste without acknowledging the influence of Talking Heads, New Order and David Bowie, there is much to be excited about.  LCD Soundsystem’s latest, American Dream, marks a worthwhile return-to-form by the leading contemporary interlocutor of these virtuosic figures.

Like all their prior albums, American Dream features few songs with radio-friendly runtimes. Opening with luscious, pop-y synthesizers over which we hear Murphy ethereal pleas to an undefined lover, the album’s first song, “oh baby,” teases our attention with a kinetic, but tempered, melody that seamlessly eases into “other voices,” a faster and funkier track about the deadening mundanity of routine that sounds like it could’ve been ripped straight from Talking Heads masterpiece Remain in Light. As the track’s harmonious, fast percussions accelerate mid-song, the monotonous, feminine taunts interspersing 2008’s “Get Innocuous” re-appear, provided by LCD’s Nancy Whang. They announce: “This is what’s happening — and it’s freaking you out.” Since This is Happening, comparatively celebratory in its attitude, the promises of late-stage American capitalism have continued to be unmasked for their emptiness, and the senselessness of our experiences on this dying planet prompt her to ask: “Who can you trust? And who are your friends?” Murphy himself is now forty-seven years old, making it necessary for me to occasionally remind myself that he’s getting old. Knowing this should prepare listeners for the much darker, less mirthful LCD Soundsystem that has returned — just as cognizant of our earthly insignificance, except now even more terrified by it.

Continuing with this angst, Murphy reflects, in “i used to,” on how in spite all in the world that is “wrong … [he] still tr[ies] to wake up.” Perhaps because it is less-appealing for its repetitiveness, we soon return to the David-Byrne-headspace in “change yr mind,” at a slower, groggier tempo. This is all for good reason, as the album’s most powerful song, “how do you sleep?,” a nine-minute piece propelled from start to finish by tribal drums, defined by its raw anger and almost-definitely named after a John Lennon song lambasting Paul McCartney in the wake of their creative separation. I’m not as familiar with the details of Murphy’s spat with the former collaborator who’s the subject of the song as whoever at Pitchfork is paid to monitor the lives of our favorite artists, but if “dance yrself clean,” the funny, ecstatic and infectious opener of This is Happening, is LCD at their most optimistic, “how do you sleep?,” with a similarly epic runtime, represents the group at their most desolate. Over the compelling drum beat, the song gathers its different layers of instrumentation into a dense, ordered chaos of echoing synthesizers and Murphy’s haunting, abandoned wails. And by the time the final set of drums kick in past the five-minute mark, you can dance to it.

Fans of Jon Hopkins, Trent Reznor and other brooding electronic music exploring intense sensations other than love, lust or being high will find much in this one piece, which, after simmering down, is followed by the three pre-released singles. The first, “tonite” is a funny disco song and perhaps the album’s catchiest, despite the presence of an irritating ‘laser-blaster’ sound that similarly characterizes the London Session of “daft punk is playing in my house.” After observing how “everybody’s singing the same song / it’s goes: ‘tonight, tonight, tonight …’,” Murphy reveals the incisive smart-aleck, smirking: “I never realized these artists thought so much about time.” “call the police,” an attempt to channel the unrelenting guitars of what is perhaps the group’s best song, “All My Friends,” barely satisfies, and so it is the forlorn, booming synthesizers of the album’s titular song, “american dream” that instead rounds off this release’s strongest individual songs. “emotional haircut,” the next piece, again pays homage to Talking Heads by appropriating the Howard Beale-esque anxiety of the 20th Century for a new generation, before the final song, “Blackstar” mourns the passing of Murphy’s idol, and later, collaborator, David Bowie, with a beautiful soundscape that expresses more than any written eulogy could ever.

Ultimately, with American Dream, LCD Soundsystem disproves their outdatedness, arriving with an album that, while not necessarily their most sonically-pioneering or ambitious, is nonetheless a very welcome return-to-form for a band whose three albums to-date are each arguably among the century’s best. In LCD’s 2010 song, “Home,” Murphy, referring to one of those momentous parties marking, say, the end of a semester, happily sings “and if it’s crowded, all the better.” I say the same of their discography.


Lorenzo Benitez is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].