Sometimes there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ‘cause, what’s a hero? But sometimes, there’s a man. And I’m talking about the Murph here. Sometimes there’s a man, and well, he’s the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that’s James Murphy, in Williamsburg.
Sarcasm. Cynicism. Irony. Meta-humor. Anti-pretentiousness. Booze. Amphetamines. Lackadaisical lyricism. Dirty words. Dirtier beats. Guitars and turntables. Dance music and punk rock. Nothing captured the post-millennial Brooklyn zeitgeist quite like LCD Soundsystem. In the borough of cool, they were the coolest, and it seemed like they weren’t even trying.
It may have been evolution or perhaps it was an epiphany, but at some point after 2005, Murphy’s attitude towards writing changed. The icily distant demeanor born on “Losing My Edge” melted away, revealing a cranky and opinionated, but passionate and caring, human being with a lifetime of colorful experiences and complicated relationships to share. Exhibit A: “All My Friends”. Exhibit B: “Someone Great”. Two of the greatest songs of our young century, totally unlike anything heard in the previous. Upon first hearing them, it was immediately apparent that conventional ideas of what dance music was supposed to be no longer applied.
On Sound of Silver opener “Get Innocuous!” a precedent is set, a defining tableau. It starts with a simple, repetitive loop, then adds another, then another, the track slowly builds, picking up speed as new and exciting sounds enter the mix, the beat kicks into high gear, going faster and faster until… BAM! Dance party! Everything after that is pretty much a blur until you come to your senses 7 minutes later. You’re not quite sure of what just happened, but you definitely liked it.
You expect to overcome this attention deficit on repeated listens, but it’s harder than it seems. The beats pleasantly overwhelm, but the lyrics are even easier to get lost in. Vividly specific enough to elicit an emotional response, but still vague enough to be easily relatable, Murphy’s memories are a gateway drug to your own. This isn’t the thinking man’s electronic music; it’s existentialist party music, unafraid of dabbling in life’s big questions and the world’s major problems, but with the good sense to not provide any answers or solutions.
The album’s lead single, “North American Scum”, provides a perfect example of these conflicting elements that define LCD Soundsystem’s brilliance and relevance. The meaning of patriotism in post-9/11 America was a constant artistic theme throughout the presidency of George W. Bush, but this is a refreshingly original take on the concept. The liberal notion of being embarrassed to be American while traveling abroad is expressed with hilariously biting sarcasm. Mistakes are acknowledged and right-wing Christian ideals are rejected, but ultimately, the message is that North America in general (and New York City in particular) is still the greatest place in the world.
Murphy’s preoccupation with the haters was obviously deep rooted. He has even said in interviews that he self-identifies as a “lifetime failure.” While his twisted sense of humor and propensity for self-deprecation are still critical parts of the lyricism, it no longer defines his music, and he’s much better off for it, as are we. From their very first single, LCD Soundsystem sounded like the promise of a brave new world and 5 years later, Sound of Silver delivered. Who knew ambition could look so cool?
Click here to read the rest of my Top 50 Albums of the ’00s