James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem blurred the lines between electronic and rock music in the 21st century. Murphy’s original career plan was to become a sound engineer or a drummer, but took on a front-man role after the band he was producing broke up. LCD Soundsystem are most commonly filed under “dance-punk”, with Murphy’s unpolished vocals providing an entry point for rock fans who don’t often listen to electronic music. While the group has other members, Murphy describes himself as the control-freak who dictates their sound.
LCD Soundsystem began their career with a series of singles; the first of which, 2002’s ‘Losing My Edge’, is a perfect summary of their modus operandi. Murphy name-drops impeccable musical influences (“I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band. I told him, “Don’t do it that way. You’ll never make a dime.”), while dismissing his DJ rivals with a vocal delivery reminiscent of The Fall’s Mark E Smith.
I hear that you and your band have sold your guitars and bought turntables.
I hear that you and your band have sold your turntables and bought guitars. I hear everybody that you know is more relevant than everybody that I know.
LCD Soundsystem released three albums in their initial run, before bidding farewell with a 2011 Madison Square Garden concert, later released as The Long Goodbye. But in 2015, the group reconvened – on the advice of David Bowie – and their fourth album, American Dream, emerged in 2017. I’ve covered LCD Soundsystem’s four studio albums, but haven’t covered other releases like live records and the long form piece 45:33.
LCD Soundsystem Album Reviews
After a string of interesting singles, LCD Soundsystem’s debut album focused in on a specific facet of their sound – minimal, muscular electronica. Here they’re topped by Murphy’s vocals at his most abrasive – there’s a clear influence from The Fall’s Mark E Smith in the way he disdainfully pronounces the word “uh” at the end of each line. After the possibilities that the singles suggested, LCD Soundsystem is disappointingly monochrome; there are lots of serviceable songs, but few excellent ones, and it’s mostly reliant on Murphy’s charisma to carry it.
The most memorable song opens the album, ‘Daft Punk is Playing At My House’ – Murphy also referenced the French duo on debut single ‘Losing My Edge’, and they’re a good signifier for LCD Soundsystem, another group bridging the divide between rock and electronica. Other highlights include ‘Disco Infiltrator’, with its bubbly synth hook, Murphy’s deadpan delivery on ‘Too Much Love’, and the insistent energy of ‘Tribulations’.
The double disc version of LCD Soundsystem is much stronger – the second disc collates the group’s early singles. The best moments – particularly the hipster defining ‘Losing My Edge’ and the fun cowbell groove of ‘Yr City’s A Sucker’ – outshine the album proper.
2006, not yet rated
LCD Soundsystem’s second full length recording was commissioned by Nike. It was originally marketed as a work to accompany jogging. It was originally sold as one 45 minute piece, although later editions broke down the work into segments. The third part was re-purposed into ‘Someone Great’ on Sound of Silver. The title is taken from the two common speeds for vinyl records; 33 and 45 revolutions per minute.
Sound of Silver
Like LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver was recorded at Long View Farm in Massachusetts. Murphy covered the entire studio in silver, hence the album’s title. More diverse than LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver draws inspiration from the 1970s, and you can hear echoes of David Bowie’s Berlin period, Kraftwerk, Eno, and Talking Heads. The marked improvement is in the more subdued songs – LCD Soundsystem was reliant on energy to work, but here the mellow songs like ‘Someone Great’ and ‘All My Friends’ are also excellent.
On a uniformly terrific album, my favourite moment is Murphy’s acerbic “I knew you were low man/But the truth is I was shocked” as the beat drops away on ‘Time to Get Away’. Murphy delivers intelligent dance floor fillers with ‘Get Innocuous’, ‘Us V Them’, and ‘North American Scum’. Along with the gentle synth pulses of ‘Someone Great’ and ‘All My Friends’, Murphy also changes pace for the closer, ‘New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down’. What might have been a routine ballad to the Big Apple is elevated to enthralling by Murphy’s wavering, unpredictable vocal performance.
Sound of Silver is a towering achievement, an intelligent visionary uniting the worlds of rock and dance, and synthesizing their influences into something fresh and exciting.
This Is Happening
This Is Happening showcases an ever more confident Murphy; it follows a similar template to Sound of Silver, but with more bluster. The 1970s influences are there again – the guitar on ‘All I Want’ sounds inspired by Robert Fripp’s fretwork on David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. But while it’s a confident, entertaining record, This is Happening is spread too thinly – the nine tracks lazily unfold over more than an hour.
Despite my reservations, This Is Happening is book-ended by two of LCD Soundsystem’s best tracks. Opener ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ simmers for a long time before suddenly exploding into a dance beat, while closer ‘Home’ burbles along tunefully over a world beat that recalls Talking Heads. In between, the material is often less convincing – ‘Drunk Girls’ features some of Murphy’s most agreeably frenzied vocals, but it’s not melodically enticing, while songs like ‘Pow Pow’ and ‘One Touch’ are dragged out over long running times.
Feeling hemmed in by the commodification of his music and tired out touring, Murphy broke up LCD Soundsystem with a show at Madison Square Gardens, although it later transpired that the breakup was only temporary.
On the advice of David Bowie, Murphy reformed LCD Soundsystem in 2016. The band headlined that year’s Coachella, and announced they were recording a new album, although it took until September 2017 for American Dream to arrive. More than before, American Dream draws on post-punk textures, with oppressive rhythms displacing the funky art pop of This Is Happening, especially on the record’s later tracks.
There are certainly songs that recall LCD Soundsystem’s earlier work .The advance singles ‘Tonite’ and ‘Call The Police’ would have fitted perfectly onto This Is Happening, while ‘Change Yr Mind’ is my favourite song, another Bowie influenced effort that’s close in tone to Bowie’s 1979 record Lodger. It’s the final three songs where the darker post-punk material is most pronounced – the title track is rhythmically taut and droning, while the intense ‘Emotional Haircut’ is pitched somewhere between Joy Division and The Fall.
American Dream is less accessible than the albums from LCD Soundsystem’s first iteration, it’s a very rewarding comeback effort.
Ten Best LCD Soundsystem Songs
Dance Yrself Clean
Time to Get Away
Yr City’s A Sucker (Full Version)
Losing My Edge
Call The Police
North American Scum
Change Yr Mind
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