LCD Soundsystem – American Dream

 

Six years after LCD Soundsystem’s elaborate, three-hour-long farewell show at Madison Square Garden, the New York dance-punk group has returned with a reunion album that could just as well be another retirement record. More than ever, frontman and cult of personality James Murphy seems aware of his increasingly short time left to create art (and leave a tangible legacy on indie music as a whole, no matter how indulgently nebulous that may be). While LCD have always been a group known for their self-deprecating jabs at their age and generational anxiety, american dream is filled with a more somber brand of introspection, brought on in part by the passing of David Bowie and the pair’s brief working relationships and friendship. In turn, the record displays its influences much more prominently than previous albums. Instead of listing groups they love in their lyrics, the instrumentals and song structures feel more directly informed by them. Whether pulling a rhythm section almost directly from a Suicide song on “oh baby” or imitating Joy Division on “emotional haircut,” Murphy makes very obvious nods to declare his gratitude to his rapidly disappearing heroes. On account of paying these respects, american dream centers itself around the ephemera of life, love, and friendship.

The most striking stylistic departure on the record is the band’s switch to almost entirely analog synths. The purposefully anachronistic move trades in LCD’s cleaner production for a rawer sound that feels rougher around the edges, which Murphy uses to craft a bitter, if somewhat somber and defeated atmosphere that lingers throughout every facet of the record. Heralding this shift, “oh baby,” the opening track, is a downtempo break-up ballad that feels much sparer and graver than “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” “Get Innocuous,” or “Dance Yrself Clean” ever did. Where before their openers served as an opportunity for the band to display their charisma and energize listeners, “oh baby” immediately sets the tone for a somber meditation on growing old, mortality, and an increasingly unfamiliar world.

On top of their usual subject matter of love, aging, and creating music, Murphy comes off as incredibly insecure about the band’s mere existence in its current form. He switches back and forth between worrying that he has nothing left to contribute to music and vigorously defending the band’s comeback. During “other voices,” Murphy describes himself as “a baby now… with soft hands and doe eyes” but also someone who’s “pushing back the calendar.” He identifies with the negative aspects of being young and old; he’s more easily swayed from his creative vision due to his time away from the studio, and he has an incredibly short amount of time left to convey his message. Beyond his inability to execute, Murphy frets over whether he even has anything new musically to give to listeners – an especially unnerving concern for someone who pioneered their own sub-genre, dance-punk. Fittingly, the band does their best Talking Heads on “change yr mind” with an afrobeat-inspired rhythm section and steadily building synths while Murphy laments that  “I’ve got nothing left to say / I’m in no place to get it right / and I’m not dangerous now.” And in a way, Murphy’s sentiment isn’t misplaced – LCD Soundsystem have been singing about the same general topics for their entire existence: their very first song, “Losing My Edge,” is about being passed up by younger, more innovative musicians. Even this self-awareness starts to wear thin on “tonite” when Murphy aggrandizes himself as “the hobbled veteran of the disk shop inquisition / set to parry the cocksure of this mem-stick filth.” Thankfully, the punchy percussion and wet synths carry the song even when the lyrics start to drag.

Much of the album revolves around Murphy losing friendships for one reason or another and how he responds to the sudden void they left. The record’s two emotional climaxes, “how do you sleep?” and “black screen,” respectively examine two former relationships. “how do you sleep?” is a monstrously slow-burning epic about Murphy’s feud with Tim Goldsworthy over the latter’s alleged defrauding of DFA, the New York electronic label they co-founded. Complete with pounding drums and ominous synthesizers, the track sees Murphy at his most caustic. In between sneering insults, Murphy details his perceived betrayal at the hands of his label partner. To him, it seems that Goldsworthy completely fabricated his desire to be friends and only ever saw Murphy as a potential source of income. Murphy ends the track “erasing [their] chances” of recovering their relationship by asking Goldsworthy how he can live with himself as the synths rage so loudly that they threaten to completely block out Murphy’s vocals. On the other hand, the LCD frontman has always worn his admiration for Bowie on his sleeve, so it comes as no surprise that “black screen” delivers a poignant final thanks to Bowie for his impact on and friendship with Murphy. The synths gently pulse as Murphy gives his final farewell to his idol and then slowly and wistfully drift away with a piano line into an enveloping silence that neatly wraps up the record.

As a whole, american dream is more of a farewell album than This is Happening ever managed to be, despite the band’s retirement plans. It’s a record riddled with loss and yearning for those who are gone. The album positions itself as a fitting end for the group should they decide to quit the music business once more. Though LCD Soundsystem doesn’t vary their style all that much, they shouldn’t have to. Their ever-anachronistic stylings are built so deeply into the group’s mythos that abandoning them would take away from their unique brand of showmanship and self-awareness. Anything other than their unique niche within indie would come off as a surrender to the very industry pressures and structures they’ve railed against for the band’s entire existence. While it never reaches the highs of Sound of Silver or This is Happening, it still stands as a very solid outing within the band’s discography and it certainly won’t disappoint fans who want another dose of dance-punk goodness.

Author: Cameron

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