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

 

Friday In The Land of Plenty

DSC04675No vegemite sandwiches tonight. Just some New Belgium Trippel and some Boards of Canada.

So, how’s everybody’s week been? I have to say that this week was a hell of a week. Every night I’ve come home I’ve felt beaten up. Work was crazy, so Friday is a welcomed thing for me. It always is, but especially this week. It’s a good thing I have plenty of new music to ease me out of the 9 to 5 hustle.

I’m still reeling from Record Store Day and the great albums I was able to get. Last weekend the wife and I headed over to Fort Wayne and I grabbed the LCD Soundsystem box set. It’s the unabridged 5LP box set of their entire Madison Square Garden final gig. Let me just say that James Murphy did an amazing job mixing it. It is probably one of the most stunning sounding records I now own. It’s 3+ hours of music is something to behold. I thank my lovely wife for allowing me to indulge in something so pricey. But really, for the green they wanted for this set it was a damn good deal. Then on Monday I went to my local brick n’ mortar and picked up two more aural nuggets.

First was the Of Montreal RSD release, their reissue of Satanic Panic In The Attic on double blue and yellow vinyl. A band I’ve loved ever since buying Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer in 2007. A great album filled with Kevin Barnes doing his version of acid-tinged bubble gum dance pop. Album one is the original release, while album two is seven tracks recorded at the same time the original record was recorded but were never used. A great addition to my Of Monteal collection, which includes three of their later albums(I’m one of just a couple people that LOVED Paralytic Stalks.)

And last but not least Causa Sui’s Summer Sessions finally came in after being backordered. If you’re not familiar with Causa Sui and you love psych rock, Can, and Bitches Brew-era Miles then you need to get familiar with them. A four-piece out of Denmark these guys are the real deal. Summer Sessions consists of three LPs filled with some amazing, introspective jams. They find a groove in “Visions Of Summer” and don’t let it go for nearly 21 minutes. One whole album side. It’s something to get lost in. All three albums are very distinctive, but you know who you’re hearing from the get go. I have their Live At Freak Valley waiting for me as well. I’ll get that tomorrow hopefully.

So yes it’s been a rough week work-wise, but thanks to the power of music, vinyl, New Belgium Brewing Company, and my cool dog Otto, I’m gonna get through it just fine.

Happy Friday.

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New Music, New Brew…Friday Night!

photo (5)After an extremely long week Friday evening feels pretty damn good.  Groceries are bought and put away and there is beer in the freezer becoming extremely cold.  One of the local liquor stores has recently improved their craft beer selection tremendously.  I was overwhelmed at all the different varieties.  I think I started going into a panic attack once I saw twelve varieties of O’Grady’s Rotten Stein IPA and 8 varieties of Dirty Sanchez’ Holy Sock Stout.  After borrowing a paper sack from the counter and breathing into it for a couple minutes I calmed down.  I ended up with Boulevard Brewing Company’s Bully! Porter.  If you like porters, you’d love this.  Dark, complex, with a nice finish.  No “sandpaper on the tongue” roughness with this stuff.  And for $7.99 for a six-pack, you can’t beat it.

In the midst of grocery shopping I stopped to pick up a couple records from my local brick n’ mortar.  Baths’ Cerulean and and LCD Soundsystem’s Losing My Edge 12 in single.  If you’ve never listened to Baths you need to check them/him out.  Thanks to a fellow music lover, as well as cinema junkie and Stephen Malkmus worshiper Greg Locke over at Zecatalist.com for steering me in their general direction. Baths is Will Wiesenfeld and he makes electronic music that isn’t the typical electronic music.  If you’re familiar with Flying Lotus, Four Tet, and Modeselektor you have a starting point.  It’s that blippy, glitchy kind of electronic music snaps and crackles out of the speakers.  Every nuance and detail is put into graphic focus.  But it’s not just music, he’s a real songwriter.  He sings most of the time in a falsetto that hovers over the mix, creating this ghostly narrative that gives the songs an emotional heft.  The ‘electronic’ name tag doesn’t do him justice.  The truncated beats and blippy, almost hallucinogenic synth lines are merely the vehicle Wiesenfeld uses to deliver his personal songs to our ears.  Baths reminds me of artists like Youth Lagoon and that bands mastermind Trevor Powers.  It’s one guy telling extremely personal tales through technology.  Though they may not sound much alike, they’re both kindred spirits in my eyes.  Another artist that comes to mind is Mark Linkous.  His Sparklehorse records were at times lo fi sounding, but there were so many details to dig into.  He created his own world on his records and told his own broken, drugged-out stories through acoustic guitar, blasts of electric guitar, and his sometimes distorted/sometimes clear as a bell whisper of a voice.  He laid the groundwork for guys like Powers and Wiesenfeld.

So that’s what’s going on here.  That, and baling rain water out of my basement window.  F**k yeah, hello Friday.

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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.

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