Monday, June 1, 2009

LCD Soundsystem. Sound of Silver (Capitol/DFA, 2007)

"And yeah we knew you were tired, but then/ Where are your friends tonite?"

LCD Soundsystem is the Robocop of indie rock: half man, half machine, all great. The brainchild of knob-twiddler and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire James Murphy (Robocop's real name was Murphy, too), it's a brilliant amalgamation of krautrock-inspired electro and meat-and-potatoes FM radio rock, insistent programmed beats and shimmery synths fighting for space around live bass, drums, and guitar. Plus, Murphy is a piss-taker of the first order, investing his songs with a nice mix of pathos, humor, dread, and regret.

Before becoming one of dance punk's most sought after producers as half of dynamic duo the DFA (with Tim Goldsworthy, himself a co-founder of the UK's Mo' Wax imprint), Murphy did time in post-punk outfits like Pony and Speedking, manning the drum kits and honing his timing. He made his sound design bones by handling the sound set-up for keyboards 'n' coke visionaries Six Finger Satellite, helping those dudes scare the hell out of a bunch of unsuspecting college kids.

By 2001, Murphy had teamed up with Goldsworthy to create DFA (that's Death From Above) Records, cranking out early-aughts classics by benighted Brooklynites like the Rapture, the Juan Maclean (aka John Maclean from Six Finger Satellite), Black Dice, and Radio 4, helping guitar-wielding post-millennial punks with Saturday night fever shake their asses in shitty basements all over Williamsburg. It was Gang of Four all over again, minus the politics, plus the drugs, as chronicled by Vice. And it sounded pretty great.

LCD Soundsystem arrived shortly thereafter, as Murphy took to penning his own tracks and playing his own instruments, pulling from pop, garage, disco, techno, psych, new wave, no wave, and whatever else lay at his fingertips. Debut single "Losing My Edge" arrived in summer 2002, an effing brilliant chunk of driving dancefloor gold with a spoken word lament from an incredibly hip hipster mourning his increasing irrelevance but defending his bonafides, declaring that, "I was there at the first Can show in Cologne," "I was there in 1974 at the first Suicide practices in a loft in New York City (I was working on the organ sounds with much patience)," "I used to work in the record store. I had everything before anyone." It's hilarious and sad, and you can hear the pride and desperation in every nonchalantly uttered syllable.

Some more singles followed, like "Daft Punk is Playing at My House" and the creepily engaging "Yr City's A Sucker"; in early 2005, the eponymous debut LCD Soundsystem LP, which gathered these singles and more on to a two-disc set, was released on Capitol/DFA, and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Electronic/Dance Album in 2006. At one point, even Britney Spears wanted a DFA remix (it didn't work out). Murphy was riding high.

Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem's second full-length, dropped in 2007 and immediately proved that Murphy wasn't running out of good ideas. It's one of the most solid LPs of the aughts, an irresistible collection of heavy hooks laid over instantly enjoyable beats, marked by sorrow and a certain world weary joy.

The LP's standouts are "North American Scum" and "All My Friends." The former is a cheerily jingoistic anthem sung by someone self-conscious of his continent and trying to defend his culture from a bunch of skeptical Euro types, shot through with a relentlessly driving beat and pulsing guitars. The latter is probably my favorite song of 2007, a heartbreaking tale of the inexorable journey beyond cool and into old age. It's impeccably constructed, repeating a two chord build-and-release progression and layering instruments gradually, gaining melodic momentum as the vocals become increasingly desperate and distraught. "You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan/ And the next five years trying to be with your friends again," cries Murphy, perfectly articulating the pain and confusion inherent in the maturation process, and nearly making me cry every time. By the end, Murphy is spitting lines like, "When you're drunk and the kids look impossibly tan/ You think over and over, 'Hey! I'm finally dead!'" and, "Oh, if the trip and plan come apart in your hands/ You can turn it on yourself, you ridiculous clown," and it's like a dark prophecy from the land of the terminally stylish. There but for the Grace of Eno go we all.

Though the aforementioned are the high points, Sound of Silver holds little filler. "Get Innocuous" ushers in the album with a hearty throb, laying the groundwork for the treasure to unfold. "Someone Great" pulses on cardiac rhythms, darkly magisterial keys, and trebly squelches, salvaging a notable hook from the sonic soup. The straightforward thump of "Watch The Tapes" punches through to the solemnly smirking chant of the title cut: "Sound of silver, talk to me/ Makes you want to feel like a teenager/ Until you remember the feelings of/ A real live emotional teenager/ Then you think again," as a Kraftwerky bleepscape bumps and whirs in the background. Album closer "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" is a simple, analog piano ballad (and one of the few tracks where Murphy is joined by some other folks), a paean to pre-Giuliani/Bloomberg Gotham. ""New York, you're safer but you're wasting my time," Murphy croons sweetly, "Our records all show you were filthy but fine." It's willfully naive but catchy as hell and sweet, too; it's hard not to share in the blind nostalgia for a place that never really was.

LCD Soundsystem is the sound of the Big Apple's indie hipster cognoscenti at the start of the 21st century, untouchably cool and consistently impressive. Sound of Silver will, I have little doubt, age well, a sonic scrapbook of troubling times, with echoes of post-9/11 anxiety and post-90s hangovers preserved for future listeners. This is historic music, the sound of a generation crippled by self-awareness and irony but trying to move beyond that stuff to someplace better. Trying and usually failing, but trying all the same.

LCD Soundsystem