Oh good gracious, I sound like my mom!
I jumped on the LCD Soundsystem train late. They were gone by the time my college roommate exposed me to their mythic legacy. Dance music for the thinking soul, critical acclimation abound, a four hour show that was unambiguously their final show.
Shut Up and Play the Hits took that mythos and vaulted into the stratosphere with it. Somehow, seeing the band up close and personal increased my fanciful image of them, rather than bringing them down to earth. The whole project, encased in the membrane of James Murphy’s ambitions of topping the charts, felt like a hero’s journey ended prematurely.
But that not-quite-success was a part of their mythos. LCD Soundsystem ended spectacularly and their legacy calcified. Appreciation for their art may have come later, dead painters and rose glasses, charts be damned.
Their reunion immediately struck me with something between skepticism and sadness. They so dominated their moment that I couldn’t imagine their zeitgeist surviving the transition. How could they ever live up?
Turns out the answer to that was: quite easily, and I should stuff the pretentious reverence.
At least in part. LCD is still a band of the zeitgeist (while still, incredibly, timeless), and this is part of their genius. I imagine it always was, and always will be, even if Murphy and the band meticulously engineered it.
I got the opportunity to listen to American Dream prior to its official release at an event hosted in Philadelphia. Still, it’s taken me this long to totally digest what I wanted to say (which, in an industry dominated by snap opinions, is totally a fault).
Okay, but – now it’s time for me to shut up and talk about the hits. Because they are now.
American Dream is everything LCD aspired to, but it’s also something sublimely different. During its hour, we hear endless self-reference, meta-lyricism about LCD itself. But this is standard LCD fare, prancing along a line dividing goofy and artistic, a line that Murphy himself intentionally blurs.
It’s different though, after six years. American Dream expresses a profound sense of world weariness. The band that engineered their own zeitgeist with a danceable sensibility and a knowing snobbery – of course they have a precient knowledge of The Moment.
Don’t get me wrong: LCD is as dancy as ever, but on their fourth album they channel the energy of songs like “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” and “Someone Great,” if not in musicality then in lyricism and raw, tangible feeling. On the opening track, “oh baby,” Murphy sings, “Oh baby/Oh baby/You’re having a bad dream/Here in my arms,” his expression like a lullaby. The reference to dreams is clear, and immediately sets the tone for the album – it’s called American Dream with an opener that references nightmares. And that sense permeates “oh baby” as we listen to ethereal bells and heaving synth that place us in a midday reverie, curtains drawn and litter scattered across the floor.
It’s a sort of desperation for escape, a powerful expression of weariness that continues throughout the album.
Sidebar, all the tracks are stylized with lowercase letters.
Musically, “other voices” thrusts the album forward. It sounds far more like the enigmatic dance-punk of LCD past. A chorus in the middle of the song emulates the slow, time-dilated vocals at the beginning of “Get Innocuous!” Murphy yelps his bizarre vocals and passes the baton to Nancy Whang, whose vocals alter the texture of the song slightly and have their own memorable frankness about them.
Whang’s verse is perhaps the most frank moment of “other voices.” “This is what’s happening/and it’s freaking you out” she sing-talks, “I’ve heard it, I’ve heard it/And it sounds like the nineties.” LCD makes it impossible to escape the references to time and aging, of fatigue.
American Dream’s first half is excellent. Once we hit “how do you sleep?” however, LCD catapults into some of their best work yet. “how do you sleep” is a personal favorite. The track is over nine minutes long, with pounding, ritualistic drums foreshadowing its distinct flavor. Its bitter title, “how do you sleep?” all but explicitly drags Tim Goldsworthy, co-founder of DFA Records with Murphy.
With LCD’s amazing penchant for slow-burn tracks, “how do you sleep?” practically ignites at the three minute mark with wild lead synths and immense, pummeling drums.
Following it, “tonite” delights with its constant self-reference, “I never realized these artists thought so much about dying,” and “Oh good gracious/I sound like my mom.”
Still, in spite of its superficial goofy attitude, “tonite” articulates the themes of American Dream in some of the most clever ways on the album. It’s a true postmodern statement by one of few living auteurs: self-aware almost to an absurd degree, with layers of irony and self-deprecation.
But LCD eclipses the standard postmodern formula of irony + cynicism = intelligence. The subversion is quite simple. They replace cynicism with a weird compassion, something not quite optimistic but definitely good natured and fun loving. That may well be another crux of the band’s music – the ability to weave heavy themes like aging and losing your edge into punchy, fashionable music that you can’t stay in your chair for.
I’d be bereft if I didn’t mention the title track of American Dream. “american dream” represents the epitome of LCD’s fears. Like time, it flows in three, a melancholy waltz through impending losses, sprinkled lightly with denial. I’ve no doubt that the 6/8 meter, a meter typically associated with water and flowing, connects intimately to the themes of passing time.
With all that said, there’s no decisive word to end this. “You simply have to experience it,” says the music critic. LCD will see you out.