James Murphy is as poignant and poetic as ever on LCD Soundsystem’s ‘American Dream’
LCD Soundsystem, the brainchild of James Murphy, has come to define the American avant-garde music scene over the last decade since their debut in 2005.
Their eponymous 2005 album featured jams like “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and “Losing My Edge,” which are simultaneously hilarious, meta, sarcastic, and fucking groovy.
LCD’s three previous albums displayed many of these same qualities. On sophomore effort Sound of Silver, “North American Scum” shows Murphy critiquing our sometimes shitty, sometimes wonderful weird country,
“New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent
Wahoo North America
And it’s the furthest you can live from the government uh huh huh
Some fat American christians might disagree.”
“All My Friends” is one of those building, driving Talking Heads-inspired tracks that begins with the smallest of piano melodies only to unfurl into a beautiful, whirling wall of sound that Murphy whips up so masterfully.
And on “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” Murphy bemoans a changing Metropolis in the face of gentrification and a disappearing cultural scene.
Murphy sounds like a grouchy old man as he wags his finger at the youngins who still believe in the idealized version of that New York,
“And oh! Take me off your mailing list
For kids who think it still exists
Yes, for those who think it still exists.”
This is a trademark of Murphy and LCD Soundsystem. He knows he sounds like a crotchety old guy at times, but he’s always in on his own joke, and you want to be too.
The act’s last album in 2010 was polished and clean. Murphy appears on the cover in a dapper suit. It was their highest-charting record ever, headed by the bubbly “I Can Change.”
Then LCD called it quits. The band officially ended it all with a massive last show at MSG in April 2011. I was there. It was a grandiose, maximal, if not slightly self-indulgent, event for an act that has shunned the spotlight.
That show was also a triumphant culmination of five years of shaping the zeitgeist of American music.
About two years ago, Murphy decided to bring LCD back. They began touring two years ago, playing the hits to sold out venues all over the world. And now, we have a fourth LCD Soundsystem record, American Dream, the first in seven years, and it may just be their most impressive.
On those first three records Murphy combined his poetic, cutting, and poignant lyrics with a blend of post-punk, noise rock, dance music, and synth-pop to such fascinating and alluring effects. It’s obviously impossible to quantify the influence of a band, especially in real time, but it’s not hard to see the blurring of genres in contemporary music is in large part due to LCD Soundsystem’s impact.
The influences on Murphy’s own work are an eclectic group of artists similarly at the cutting edge. The fingerprints of artists like Lou Reed, David Bowie, Daft Punk, Talking Heads, and Alan Vega are all over LCD’s work.
And they are all over American Dream as Murphy conjures a 10-track, tour of contemporary music lasting longer than 70 minutes.
“Oh Baby,” the first track off American Dream, a ballad about lost love and a bad dream, ticks along with bouncing drums complimented by luscious synths that belong on the Drive soundtrack.
As good as it all sounds, Murphy’s lyrics are the true trademark of LCD Soundsytem. And he is at his most emotive on American Dream.
If Murphy was a little bit of a grouchy old man before, seven years later he’s even more of a hilarious curmudgeon.
On “Tonite,” backed by Daft Punk-sounding synthesizers, Murphy speaks in spoken word monotone about being a middle-aged man amongst the youth,
“Oh I’m a reminder
The hobbled veteran of the disk shop inquisition
Set to parry the cocksure of men’s sick filth
With my own late era middle-aged ramblings.”
But as soon as he gets too preachy about this shit, he catches himself in hilarious fashion,
“And luck is always better than skill at things
We’re flying blind
Oh good gracious
I sound like my mom.”
“Call The Police” is one of the most enjoyable songs about nihilism that I’ve ever heard as Murphy calls back Neil Young, “we all know this is nothing… we all know this is nowhere.”
He’s singing about being an old dude again and telling those damn kids it’ll happen to them too,
“The old guys are frightened and frightening to behold
The kids come out fighting and still doing what they’re told
But you’re waking a monster that will drive you from your hoary holes of gold
And your body will get cold.”
“Call The Police” is irresistible despite the listener’s realization that Murphy is telling you that you’re gonna die.
Midway through the album “How Do You Sleep?” is a vicious putdown of a former accomplice, apparently former label partner Tim Goldsworthy. “How Do You Sleep?” builds with metronomic drumbeats as Murphy shouts far in the background, “I remember when we were friends I remember calling you friend.”
After three and a half minutes of build, synths rain down like bolts of lightning and suddenly we’re in a deep house track as Murphy snarls “whatever fits in your pockets, you’ll get your due.”
“How Do You Sleep?” feels like the pinnacle of American Dream. As grouchy and sardonic as Murphy can get at times, it’s usually tongue-in-cheek, it never feels like there’s actual malice in his writing. But on “How Do You Sleep?” Murphy is fucking pissed and the music matches those feelings.
There’s more soft emotion on the final track “Black Screen,” a tribute to the late David Bowie. Murphy has spoken ad nauseam about Bowie’s influence on his art as he came to know Bowie and even worked on his last album Blackstar.
It was Bowie who convinced Murphy to bring LCD Soundsystem back.
But on “Black Screen” Murphy is full of regret for being intimidated by Bowie and not working more with the late artist.
He sings in filtered vocals over a pulsating beat,
“I had fear in the room
So I stopped turning up
My hands kept pushing down
In my pockets
I’m bad with people things
But I should have tried more.”
Murphy’s vocal tribute to Bowie is over after about seven minutes as he repeats “you could be anywhere on the black screen” and the song trails off with another five minutes of twinkling piano.
It’s a beautiful ode to Bowie and the perfect end to a record that will make you glad the Starman convinced Murphy to make another record. Hopefully it’s not the last.