LCD Soundsystem : American Dream

There’s always been something about James Murphy that I’ve been drawn to. Ever since I bought LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver on a whim back in 2007 I’ve been enamored with the guy. Maybe because he’s close to my age. Maybe because he’s a middle-aged guy acting like a middle-aged guy. He’s not posturing the dude-isms of a 25-year old and acting like a malcontent every chance he gets. His passsions seem to lie in vintage synths, coffee, early 70s electronic music, and David Bowie. How can I not feel that on some level James Murphy is my soulmate? Or at the very least someone I’d love to have a cup of coffee with and talk NEU! and Conny Plank.

When LCD Soundsystem called it quits back in 2011 I was sad, for sure. To my ears Murphy and his band seemed to have more to give to the world. This Is Happening was both a glorious record and a melancholy one. There seemed to be a hint of “where do we go next?” going on, and apparently Murphy felt it was time to move on. Their farewell show at Madison Square Garden was a beautiful eulogy for a band still very much alive but not sure where to go. The band went their separate ways and James Murphy took a shot at producing other artists. What he realized was that he didn’t like producing other artists, just him and all his friends. So just like that LCD Soundsystem rose from the ashes of retirement and have returned better than ever. American Dream is the best album James Murphy and friends have made. It’s still steeped in the fun dance punk of their self-titled and the self-aware cynicism of Sound Of Silver. But this time it feels that there’s absolutely no question as to where LCD Soundsystem are going.

“Oh Baby” opens the album on sweetly dreamy note. This song puts me in mind of Suicide’s sweeter moments. Vega and Rev could definitely create tension and anxiety like the best of ’em, but when he wanted to Alan Vega could sound sweet and sincere. “Oh Baby” is the sweeter side of Suicide, with a hint of early Kraftwerk. “Other Voices” is primo LCD. Groovy as hell with Murphy proselytizing from the pulpit of dance rock, it’s a song you won’t be able to keep still through. Nancy Whang jumps in for a verse or two as well. “Change Yr Mind” seethes with Berlin Trilogy-era Bowie. There’s some serious Low vibes going on here. With the guitar squalls, Murphy’s vocal delivery, and the heavy lean on bass this track feels like some sort of musical exorcism. “How Do You Sleep?” is the darkest I think LCD Soundsystem has ever gotten. Tribal drums, vocals sounding as if they’re coming from some endless void, and languid-sounding buzzes and bleeps make for some seriously grim vibes. Imagine Joy Division and Bauhaus trying to outdo each other in their melancholy prime. That would be this epic slow burner.

When the initial singles “American Dream” and “Call The Police” were released I remember feeling a little underwhelmed. They were decent songs, but not “back from the dead” kind of songs. Then “Tonite” was released and all was forgiven. In the context of the rest of the album they fit in quite nicely as these more shinier, upbeat songs. But “Tonite”, that’s just classic, funky LCD Soundsystem. It’s pure giddy dance fun. I hear that song(and watch the video) and I’m reminded of Prince and the Revolution. Maybe that’s a crazy comparison, but I think there’s something to be said for Murphy’s ability to lead a group of great musicians into funky, wonky musical territory.

I once had an emotional haircut. It was a few years ago when I realized I shouldn’t grow my hair out long, what with me being a man of follicle issues. I wish it had been as fun and punky as LCDs “Emotional Haircut”, but alas it was just sorta sad.

“Black Screen” is the epic ending to an epic new beginning. It’s quiet, dense, and hums with tube-driven emotion. I’m not sure James Murphy has ever written a song so subtle and vast as this 12-minute opus. There’s a melancholy feel as the song fades with a pulsating synth and distant piano chimes. Goodbye, cruel world.

Most of these “we’re retiring, goodbye….hey, we’re back!” shenanigans usually end up with the majority consensus being they should’ve stayed retired(I’m looking at you, Pixies.) But LCD Soundsystem breaks the mold as far as comebacks go. Murphy closed the door too soon on his band of electronic misfits, and I think he knew that the day after his retirement party at MSG. I’m glad he can admit when he’s wrong, because American Dream is a beautiful reunion for them and us. And us and them.

8.7 out 10

 

Jon Kennedy : Ha! EP

Jon Kennedy is a man about the world. He travels the globe leaving scorched dance floors as a DJ extraordinaire, and just for kicks hea0152258569_10 remixes tunes of all color, shape, and size. He’s a rhythm man at heart, calling home behind a drum set. Basking behind the real thing and as a programmer of hazy electronica, he lays down serious beats wherever he drops his drum stool.

I’m not sure, but I think he might be MI-6, too.

I’ve been following Kennedy for some time now and he never fails to impress. He’s released so much music over the last 15 years or so that catching up would be a daunting task, but you should try. Here’s some starting points: Useless Wooden Toys, Strengthen The Roses, and Corporeal. Jon Kennedy is readying a new album called Ha!. In lieu of jumping into the sure to be tasty batch of beats and samples Kennedy has dropped the Ha! EP. It’s 7 remixes of the title track, plus an EP exclusive track. It’s a nice teaser for what’s sure to be a woozy chunk of electronica.

“Ha!” on its own is a soulful number, with great vocals by Adjua. The album version is mostly just vocals with some tasteful noise going on under the proceedings. After that we’re treated to a plethora of remixes by the likes of AOTOA, Rogan, and 6blocc. Mr. Bird does a nice take on the track that gives it a Boards of Canada vibe. Something off the earlier EPs, like Twoism. Michal Menert gives the song a trip hop vibe, deconstructing the soul edge and giving it a cool, detached feel. Static Structures goes full Fruity Loops, complete with buzzes and beeps and adding in some acid jazz textures.

Not into remix albums? Well sorry for your loss. But hey, grab this thing for the album version of “Ha!” and the EP exclusive “The Lord Tarries” featuring Coreysan. It’s a blissful shot of indie techno.

Even if Jon Kennedy isn’t James Bond, I still think the Ha! EP is a nice place to get acquainted with the British musician/producer. Give it a spin, and keep your eyes open for the new LP soon.

7.3 out of 10

Slave To The Rewind : Thug Entrancer’s ‘Data Slave’

If you had told me a year ago I’d be getting all excited over a damn cassette tape I would’ve told you to jump back in that Delorean and get back to 1985. As it happens, I stand corrected. I mean, I’m not having some sort of cassette tape renaissance or anything. Sure, I’ve found a passion for making mix tapes again. But that doesn’t really count. That’s more like exercising a muscle that doesn’t get much use anymore. This newfound excitement comes from what I got in the mail yesterday. I arrived home yesterday to see a large white box on the front stoop from Software/Mexican Summer. Inside was the deluxe version of Thug Entrancer’s Arcology. It came on double white vinyl and as a bonus the Data Slave cassette tape. The Data Slave cassette mix tape is reprogrammed and restructured songs from 2013-2015. They’ve been compiled into what I would describe as a club mix. Not that I frequent clubs or raves or whatever the kids call ’em these days, but it definitely sounds like something I’d hear in a scene in a movie where there’d be strobe lights flashing, lasers cutting through the air, and lots of sweaty bodies grinding and losing their shit on some makeshift dance floor. Where Arcology is this carefully structured, intellectually concise electronic music that follows a well thought out narrative, the Data Slave Mixware cassette is pure, visceral, lose your shit techno music. I think the folks at Software could explain it a little better than I can so I’ll let them:

“Following in the footsteps of previous Mixware composers Napolian and Sculpture, Thug Entrancer crafted Data Slave out of re-structured and re-programmed compositions spanning the years 2013-2015. Inspired by insomnia and obsession, Data Slave serves as “furniture techno” – an accent table to a late night post-club come down, the treadmill for a speed run binge, or the turntable soundtracking internet compulsions.”

I told you they could say it better than me. Anyways, I’m sitting on the couch right now typing this and enjoying Data Slave quite a bit. I never really got dance/techno music all that much. Seemed rather loud, bassy, and monotonous. But then I never really was much of a booty shaker or drug taker. I could see how the music could appeal to both of those groups. Since I’ve gotten into the heavy synth stuff and the drone-y ambient music my opinion has changed on techno. It appeals to me like the synth stuff does. It’s music you can lose yourself in. Instead of sweating through my Fruit Of The Looms on a dance floor, I’m just sitting on the couch imagining myself doing some killer moves on the dance floor. Like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. Or Nicholas Cage in Wild At Heart. Or an oversized, drunk muppet.

FullSizeRender (51)I just have to say that I love the care and detail record companies like Software, Mexican Summer, Secretly Canadian, Captured Tracks, and Jagjaguwar put into their artists releases. From colored variants to remix albums to cassette releases that are included with the records. Hell, even the posters and stickers are cool in my book. Polyvinyl sends candy along with their records. Candy! They know that we as vinyl lovers appreciate the details and all the cool schwag that comes with our records. We geek out over that sort of thing(at least I do.) And I’m not saying this so they’ll send me more cool stuff. I’d never do that. I mean everything I say….but, if anyone from any of these record labels is reading this I’d be happy to take anything you’d want to send(I wear X-Large in shirt sizes and I think splatter-colored vinyl is lovely. I also LOVE coffee mugs, in case you were wondering.)

So if you’re into cool special edition and limited edition things, I’d say preorder directly from the record companies. I think they appreciate it. Plus, if you wait on getting that cool limited color vinyl and decide you want it six months after the release and they’re all sold out you’re gonna be paying a hefty chunk on Discogs or Ebay for it. Just order it now, and save yourself the heartache and emptied bank account.

That’s all I got.

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Tame Impala : Currents

Okay, so I’ve listened to Tame Impala’s excellent new album Currents several times now. Like everyday, twice a day, since last Friday. I can say verytame-impala-currents-details-release-date-tracklist confidently that it’s a masterpiece. Kevin Parker has finally decided he no longer has to make albums that sound like they’re being performed by a crusty crew of long-haired, bearded psych dudes jammin’ on a weed and lager high. He’s succumbed to the idea -or realization- that he himself is just as much a producer as he is a singer in a rock band. Since the beginning he’s recorded Tame Impala records by himself, with the same old equipment, with the same idea in mind which is writing great, catchy pop songs. But he did so in a way where those songs could still be looked at as a band and not just Kevin Parker. Currents marks the point in Mr. Parker’s musical career where he gave in to the idea that he’s an amazing studio svengali that can manipulate sound and instrument into something that’s both retro and futuristic. He needn’t worry about creating the illusion of a “band” jammin’. Working with Mark Ronson must’ve given him the push he needed to fully commit to his studio and songwriting prowess. Sure, a broken heart always helps things along, too. This is his skewered pop epic. Currents is a classic pop record. A classic rock record. It’s just a classic.

The songs? “Let It Happen” is a nearly 8 minute kinetic, anxiety-soaked, dance track that pulsates urgency and the vibe of “when it happens, let it happen.” There seems to be a million things happening in this song, yet it never feels overindulgent. It seems to encapsulate everything about Tame Impala that I’ve grown to love about them(or him.) “The Moment” could be a b-side from Thriller. I could so completely hear Michael Jackson singing this great track. All the studio trickery with delays, echoes, and ethereal synths are here, but Parker’s voice is much more in the center and pulled up for us to hear. It’s a much more clear-eyed approach to a Tame Impala tune that we haven’t heard before. “Yes I’m Changing” is pretty much an all out ballad. A song about coming to grips with the idea we don’t always stay the same. People grow apart and that’s that. Parker has tinkered with sentiment before, but here he’s embracing it completely. “Eventually” has an “It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” vibe to it, if you threw in some 80s Genesis on top and coated it with some powdered sugar. One of my absolute favorite tracks is the sublime “The Less I Know The Better”. For me, this song epitomizes a childhood of sitting in the backseat of my mom and dad’s 1984 Honda Accord and those rides being soundtracked by early 80s FM radio. The electric piano, the wurlitzer, the disco-lite beat, and the falsetto are throwbacks to a time in pop music that is looked back upon as cheesy and processed; yet Parker seems to make it relevant and poignant. This song is about as perfect a pop track as they come. “Disciples” comes in and out of the speakers in less than 2 minutes but it’s classic a classic psych rock guitar track. “Cause I’m A Man” is a skewed slow jam. THC-fueled R&B. “Reality In Motion” sounds like something Parker may have penned for Melody Prochet but decided to keep it for himself. “New Person, Same Old Mistakes” feels like a mantra put to stark pop bliss. It’s slow, loping drum beat and intricately placed musical easter eggs make for some great headphone listening.

Currents does something quite fantastical in that it takes the uncool and makes it cool again. Those cheesy electric piano sounds you heard in Richard Marx songs in the mid-80s? Well they’re not cheesy anymore. Kevin Parker takes the uncool and makes it vital. Currents is a pop record from another dimension. A dimension where Kevin Parker co-wrote “Billie Jean” with Michael Jackson and smoked up with Alan Parsons. It’s one of the best records of the year.

9.8 out of 10

 

 

 

 

James Murphy Is Playing At My House

james murphy oneLast night I finally watched LCD Soundsystem’s swan song live documentary Shut Up And Play The Hits.  While it didn’t move me quite like I’d hoped it would(an 8 year old punching couch cushions pretending to be a member of the Justice League throughout the film didn’t help…in my living room, not the movie itself), I was still reminded of how much I’m going to miss LCD Soundsystem.

I’d first heard Murphy’s dance/punk hybrid in 2007 when I bought Sound Of Silver with some birthday money(thanks, ma).james murphy two  Something about that album instantly grabbed me.  Maybe it was the funky booty-shakin’ songs like “Time To Get Away”, “Us V Them”, and album opener “Get Innocuous”.  Or it could’ve been the underlying punk aesthetic of “Watch The Tapes”.  But maybe more than anything it was the middle-aged guy earnestness of songs like “All My Friends”, “Someone Great”, and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”.  Hell, it was all those things.  For the first time in a long while I’d found an artist I could appreciate and admire that wasn’t in diapers when I was graduating high school.  In fact, this guy was born in 1970, three years before me.  I felt this guy was writing from a middle-aged dude’s perspective and not a young dude’s perspective.  But it wasn’t like he was acting his age in the studio.  He was creating these uptempo dance tracks, but not in an electronic musician’s headspace; from a punk rocker’s headspace.  And once I started looking into Murphy’s and LCD Soundsystem’s background and picked up their debut album(the two-disc edition) I’d realized Murphy felt as inadequate in a young man’s world as I did(musically speaking).  “Losing My Edge” was a song about a guy that thought he was relevant, but was finding out he wasn’t nearly as relevant as he thought.  All that cool music and culture you thought you were privy to while everyone else was drooling over their Birkenstocks and Jane’s Addiction bootlegs wasn’t so underground anymore.  I could relate to that.  I felt that, man.  And it was ass-shakin’ tunes, too(well, when no one else was around and all the curtains were shut and the doors were locked).

james murphy threeSo, I’d found a new artist to adore, admire, and grow old with.  In 2010 This Is Happening was released and I loved it.  Long-ish songs, rhythmically heavy -and more lyrics about getting old and dealing with it- all done in an almost David Bowie-meets-middle-age-in-lower-Manhatten-circa-1978 sorta way.  It sounded as if James Murphy -while maybe still not content in his personal life- had found a middle ground artistically.  He was writing like a guy almost 40 years old and he was okay with that.  He still had sass and that New York curmudgeonly lean in his writing, but it didn’t feel bitter.  Sure, I was sorta late to the LCD Soundsystem party, but I thought this was going to be one of those parties that lasted forever(I may be late, but I brought imported beer and Pita chips..they’re in the kitchen).  Well, maybe not forever, but at least until that point where my kids were getting into their records and I could be the cool dad that pulls out the old records for the “Wow!  You are cool, dad!” moment.  This was not going to be the case, as James Murphy announced he was done.  LCD Soundsystem was getting out while the getting was good.  They were leaving the party before anyone threw up in the punch bowl or jumped out of an upstairs window.  But they were going out in style, man.  A farewell concert in April of 2011 at Madison Square Garden, which leads me to last night…

I liked the documentary.  I think it showed just how much LCD Soundsystem and its members meant to James Murphy.  It also made me wish I could’ve seen them play a house show back in 2004.  That would’ve been something to see.  I think the most insightful parts of the documentary were the clips of his conversation with journalist Chuck Klosterman.  Is it a stereotype to think all New York artists -be it musicians, directors, writers, painters, actors- are neurotic like Woody Allen?  Even after saying this break up of the band was the best thing for him personally(so he can do other things he likes…like make coffee or produce Arcade Fire) he still seemed worried that breaking up the band could’ve been his biggest failure.  And the scenes of him wandering around New York with his little dog the day after the show made me think this is one lonely guy.  I know it’s all in the editing, but still.  Whether he’s in a band or not, James Murphy will always be the quintessential fussy New York artist.

I think he could pretty much do whatever he wants at this point;  direct, write, act(sorta), produce.  But way deep down, I’m hoping that someday he’ll realize he’s still got some albums left in him.  I hope he decides to don the LCD Soundsystem band name one more time and write that middle age dance punk masterpiece.  Though, he’s going to have to hurry up.  If he waits any longer it’s going to be an AARP masterpiece.

James Murphy, you can play at my house anytime you want.  I’ll get some coffee brewing.

james drinking coffee