6 Sep 2017

LCD Soundsystem - American Dream (album review)

LCD Soundsystem may have disbanded in 2011, but it never, really, felt like they were away. The documentary Shut Up and Play The Hits, chronicling their last ever concert at Madison Square Garden, came out in 2012; a five-LP, three-hour-plus, meticulously mastered behemoth containing almost every moment of that same concert was released in early 2014. Then in Christmas of 2015, they released their comeback single Christmas Will Break Your Heart. Not long after, they announced a new album would come along soon.

And here it is; what’s most immediately interesting about it is that it doesn’t sound like a vaulted comeback effort, or the sound of a band cashing in on a sound that made them famous (and rich). There are no wheels spinning here. Instead, it sounds like a particularly emotionally fraught “what I did on my holiday”. This is the most introspective disc of their career, which says a lot about a band who burst onto the scene with a spoken word track detailing band leader James Murphy’s fear that he’s no longer ‘cool’, before listing his record collection. But this introspection works, partly because there’s no question of Murphy’s sincerity, and partly because it sees the band using their abilities to construct tight, punchy, dance-punk cathedrals like they’re a group of builders, to deliver an album of deep emotional scope. It’s not the kind of music that could aptly be described as fan-service (it’s too morose for that), but it does have running through it a sense of accountability to the people listening, a wise move given the (perhaps justified) controversy Murphy found when he chose to reform the band.

It’s like Murphy is presenting himself as an open book, pointing to himself and going “look”.
So, we get a breakup track inspired by the Suicide piece Dream Baby Dream (opener oh baby); a clattering, Low-era Bowie infused din talking about Murphy’s depression in the wake of the breakup of the band, and his fear that he’s “slipping away” (change yr mind); a track filled with all manner of New Wave bombast, detailing Murphy’s feud with ex-DFA manager Tim Goldsworthy (how do you sleep); and, most poignantly, a subdued closer that details Murphy’s relationship with David Bowie, of which much was made of at the time, with little seeming to come out of it (black screen).

In all of these songs, Murphy doesn’t shy away from his flaws, and his faults, almost completely doing away with the slightly ironic veneer, that sense of self-mockery that sweetened the pill in songs like Losing My Edge, or the references to the “impossibly tanned” kids in All My Friends, or the never-not-funny “love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry (and this is coming from me)” line in I Can Change. The closest we get to that this time around is penultimate track, emotional haircut¸ which is definitely the exception to the rule.

There’s little that’s as immediately iconic as Dance Yrself Clean, Daft Punk is Playing At My House, or Someone Great, but this is an album that goes for the slow-burn, and it’s all the more rewarding for it. I can see title track american dream being the source of inspiration for a number of tattoos five years down the line; the spoken word interlude of other voices has the potential to become a live-set staple (I can see audiences screaming back “and it’s freaking you out”, and it’s a lovely image). For all the musical standouts, this is much more cohesive and holistic a work than their previous discs.

In a recent interview, Murphy made a comment about having to be twice as good as they are now for audiences to feel like they’re half as good as they ever were. Perhaps this accounts for the unexpected emotional honestly running through this thing. It almost goes without saying that this is certainly their tightest album, and the whole musical gang come together in an inspired, sublime synthesis on just about every track; bass piling on drums piling on synths piling on guitars, in an endlessly inspired kaleidoscope of musical bliss.

I love this album. I’ve played it twice a day on average since buying it, and can see it getting spun many more times in the future. It approaches perfection, in the sequencing, the production, the composition, and what it’s about. In fact, it feels weirdly epochal, like it’s defining an era. There is little, if anything, that directly relates to current events, but somehow Murphy and his gang have made an album that sounds like now, in the way that The Beta Band’s The Three EPs sounds like 1996, in the way that Bowie’s Low sounds like 1977; through not explicitly engaging with what’s going on in the world, it will continue to sound like now however many years down the line. This will be the album I play to the kids when they eventually start asking “what did 2017 really sound like?”; at that point, I’ll be old enough to start getting worried, in the way Murphy so often seems to be.

For now, all I can say is that I hope the stature of this album grows and grows with time. Good fucking luck to it.


(Words: Declan Cochran)