Brooklyn dance-punk outfit LCD Soundsystem officially announced their reunion in early 2016, and at the time, I kinda wished they hadn’t. Their dissolution and long goodbye seemed so complete and perfect, with that final show at Madison Square Garden paired with an amazing farewell documentary. Although it was amazing to witness the return of one of the greatest and most legendary musical acts this side of the millennium, it felt like it cheapened what LCD really was. You had the grand ending with the fireworks and drugs and lights, and the idea of LCD 2.0 just felt really off. The release of two lead singles, “Call the Police” and “American Dream”, didn’t do much for their fans, and the album cover, eyesore blue that it boasts, almost served to lower my expectations.
But maybe a return was inevitable. Maybe LCD was never meant to really end, and maybe there’ll always be a young audience for the pretentious, self-aware ramblings of an aging Brooklynite. Or maybe James Murphy was getting tired of his coffee antics. Either way, it ain’t bad, because it’s gotten us this new record: American Dream.
It’s very much an album of firsts. First LCD Soundsystem album to have ten tracks instead of their usual nine, first with non-monochromatic album art, and first where James Murphy sounds genuinely comfortable. That’s not to suggest that Sound of Silver isn’t among the greatest albums ever made, or that the other three LCD albums are somehow lesser, not at all; rather, that this new album is the first where he seems okay with his growing older and with himself in general. The more emotionally impactful LCD songs tend to revolve around transition; into the adult world and the responsibilities that come with it, into life without a loved one, into a city that’s not the one you used to call home. And here, Murphy, now middle-aged, sounds like he’s more or less come to terms with his fatalistic tendencies, and this gives him space and time for a breather, to reflect upon himself, his surroundings, and the events that lead him to this moment.
The cover matches the music well, in a weird way. The art has grown on me, having heard the actual album; this is probably LCD’s darkest record yet, and the bright, jarring, sky-blue cover has, oddly, an almost foreboding nature. Wake up and smell the coffee, it says. This is life.
“Oh Baby” kicks it off, giving us heavy Suicide vibes; it almost sounds like Murphy’s own homage to “Dream Baby Dream”. It’s a pretty great intro, calling us back to This Is Happening’s own side-one-track-one, “Dance Yrself Clean”, starting us off with percussive Eno-esque ticks and tocks before the unlikely frontman himself comes in. ”My love life waits for me,” he sings, bittersweetly.
“Other Voices” is a “Crosseyed and Painless”-sized slice of pure Talking Heads worship, topped off by it’s “Pow Pow”-ish swirls of looped, topsy-turvy synths and tasty bass tones, while “I Used To” is one of the gloomier cuts on the album. The latter propels itself at a moderate, moody pace, with a big meaty bassline to ground it, and massive drums to shovel the dirt. This is one of the only LCD's songs I would call truly sinister; Murphy sounds more bitter and biting than ever before.
LCD have never quite been rock music —they seem to purposely avoid falling into that trap - but there are moments on American Dream that convince me otherwise. There are more solos in the first act of this thing, that is, the four-song streak from “Oh Baby” through to “Change Yr Mind”, than in the rest of their catalogue, and although he’s not exactly breaking guitars, Murphy sounds so cool and charismatic, so full of life, so rock n’ roll. My god, do Murphy and Al Doyle kill it on guitar.
Additionally, American Dream is without a doubt LCD’s most post-punk-influenced album. “Other Voices” and “Change Yr Mind” could quite literally come from Remain in Light, particularly with regards to the mindfuck guitar solos on “The Great Curve”, while the tribal, repetitive drum patterns of “How Do You Sleep?” reminds one heavily of The The’s “Giant”, and “Emotional Haircut” seems like James Murphy’s own idea of a Murphy-fronted Closer-era Joy Division, which I guess is just early New Order. LCD has always worn its influences on its sleeves — hell, just listen to the artist-listing outro monologue on 2002’s “Losing My Edge” — and here, Murphy sounds more inspired, though perhaps not more idiosyncratic, than ever.
The snake guitars on “Change Yr Mind” really are straight from the David Byrne songbook; the Heads’ influence has always been readily apparent, but good god does this song really drive it home. Murphy croons about depression and social alienation on this wonky, disorienting afro-funk slapper. Like all the best LCD Soundsystem songs, it is hilarious, relatable, and unfortunately: hilariously relatable.
"I have a penny for your thoughts
If you could keep them to yourself"
But the true centerpiece of the album, though not the longest track, is number five, “How Do You Sleep?”. A drum line taken straight from the “Blue Monday” Appreciation Society’s Additional Listening keeps both our feet on the ground, while tense, dramatic strings attempt to pull us into the sky above. CBGB’s-sized synths hypnotize and build a remarkable sense of tension, until finally, finally, the song stops teasing and unleashes unto the world an effortlessly amazing disco drum beat, as if to say "we’re back, baby." I really think they succeeded in that regard; listening to that four-on-the-floor rhythm was the first moment that made me genuinely think “oh my god LCD are back and I missed them so much.”
However the sequencing of the three song line-up of “Tonite”, “Call the Police”, and “American Dream” is... questionable. The album has been so thoroughly consistent to this point that I can’t help but we get thrown on shuffle here. They’re not bad songs, but how well do they function in their respective positions?
“Tonite” is both a cheeky nod towards the bleep-bloops of 80s house music and a tongue-in-cheek call out of contemporary house music, and if nothing else on here demonstrates Murphy’s ability to pay homage without sounding ancient, this does. This is a love song, he declares, seemingly towards both eras and their audiences. A big part of LCD’s whole draw and appeal, at least initially, is being this unlikely emergence and combination of this nerdy, almost encyclopedic musical obsession and middle-aged jadedness out of an underground DJ and record store scene into the hands of the mainstream, while still maintaining the feeling of obscurity. In this regard, “Tonite” is true to the group’s roots. Also, it’s analogue synth heaven.
I will be honest and say that neither of the lead singles has significantly grown on me since their release; whether this is associated with and inseparable from my somewhat negative feelings regarding the band’s reunion I do not know. “Call the Police” is the bastard son of Bowie’s “Heroes” and LCD’s trademark dance-punk signature sound, with a bassline from the year 2029 hidden underneath. Hell, there’s even a Bowie reference with a line about moving to Berlin. It’s probably not one of the better recordings on here, but it really is a testament to the group’s longevity that they can produce sounds so familiar, so them, and yet so fresh.
"And we don’t waste time with love
It’s only death from above"
I’d probably enjoy the song a lot more if the production didn’t sound so muddy and bland.
The title track is a morning-after, post-capitalist, post-golden years waltz about regret, meaningless sex, and other existential discomforts. The question begs to be asked: shouldn’t James Murphy have written this song a lot earlier? The man’s been married for over a decade. That’s not to say it isn’t autobiographical; rather, that it probably would have been more applicable as a note-to-self-type song when Murphy was a lot younger rather than as a vaguely, hastily thrown-together second-person life lesson. Some genuinely fantastic lyrics on here though, resonant to anyone among the aimless and misguided twenty-somethings.The song proves that Murphy can still flex his lyrical talents.
"Grab your clothes and head to the doorway
If you dance out, no one complains
Find the place where you can be boring
Where you won’t need to explain"
I can’t get over that it sounds like a goddamn Christmas song though.
As for the next track; the titleof “Emotional Haircut” is enough to drive you away from listening to it, but my god does it bang. It’s a lot punkier than the rest of the cuts on here, and it really sounds lifted straight from LCD’s 2005 self-titled album, with its raw, cheeky snark, anthemic title drops, and expeditious post-punk percussion.
“Black Screen”, our closer, is the longest song LCD Soundsystem have ever put on a studio album. It’s kind of like a minimalistic “Marquee Moon” for a post-Bowie world, assuming it is about him, that is, and quite possibly the darkest song LCD’s ever made. A cold, fridge-buzz-like synth leads the way here, followed by sparse percussion. The song really nails the feeling of drifting away from a friend, whether due to long distance or simple change in character. Here, Murphy recalls keeping in touch online, and the all-too-familiar feeling of a reply-induced high. There’s this wonderful synth harmonisation following the title drop, which is followed by gorgeous piano chords that take you by the hand and lead you into the afterlife, all the while accompanied by the same whirring electronic heartbeats. It’s quite beautiful, but truth be told there’s really no need for it to be almost twice as long as “Hotel California.” That’s not to say it’s total wankery, but there comes a point where I’m kind of asking it to wrap up already.
The thing is, it’s near-impossible to take these pieces out of context. Of course, you can enjoy the songs without knowing a single thing about LCD Soundsystem, but this is a hugely celebrated band’s comeback album. What happened during the hiatus? Did James Murphy get bored? Was he offered massive stacks of money to come back? Did he miss the limelight, the touring, the camaraderie?
One thing’s for sure: these songs will thrash live.
C.J. Dennis is a writer for Daily Lobo Music. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org