LCD Soundsystem Returns With Their Highly Anticipated Comeback Album that Doesn’t Disappoint
The year was 2011 and LCD Soundsystem had just played their final concert at Madison Square Garden. A final 4-hour performance that will live on in the ethos of music legends forever. I had just gotten into LCD Soundsystem and was heartbroken when one of my favorite bands had broken up just months after my interest peaked. I wanted nothing more in the world at that time than to see them live or for them to release new music. After their final concert got the mega edition, supercapitalism, movie treatment I was satisfied with my LCD Soundsystem craze.
Flash forward to 2015 and the release of a holiday single, “Christmas Will Break Your Heart.” I was a little torn with it for many reasons. For one, I think one of the hallmarks of a rock band hitting a wall is releasing a Christmas song. Also, what the actual fuck, it had been less than a year since The Long Goodbye was released. This grand exit gave a sense of finality that didn't stay. Between that, the band had only really been broken up a handful of years. Despite this, I was thrilled by the release of new music and the song was a low-key Christmas banger.
Anyways, after this debacle, my brain was in pieces. I wasn't sure if I really wanted the band to reunite. Things being discrete and finite make them more interesting and the LCD Soundsystem episode was a very fond moment in my development. So after the Christmas single, I was wondering if this meant a reunion or just James Murphy getting that dough. Regardless I was very anxious.
Finally, the year is 2017, Trump is president and everything is bad or great (depending on who you ask) and then LCD Soundsystem drops a bomb. “Call The Police/American Dream” was released on May 5 and the hype was more real than Pokémon Go in summer 16’. “Call the Police” gave me similar vibes to a toned down “Daft Punk is Playing At My House.” Somehow James Murphy still makes himself relatable to millennials at age 47. Although the instrumentation was pretty tame for an LCD Soundsystem song, this made it feel like a safe bet for the first single to be released by the band. The sparkly B-side to this release, “american dream”, is filled with vivid lyrics such as “You took acid and looked in the mirror/Watched the beard crawl around on your face” and a range of a vocal performance. Along with this, the instrumentals create such a mood of the evolving American Dream. The lightheartedness of the introduction gives us a sense of the idealized “American Dream” that is a soft and comfortable life with love and happiness etc. The song deceptively becomes rougher throughout with the drum getting edgier and the lyrics getting darker. This culminates to an emotional climax that describes the struggle of such an ideal.
After the release of this single, I was thoroughly convinced I wanted more. In mid-August, the continuation of the saga unfolded with the release of the banger, “tonite.” I feel like “tonite” is one of the smartest and darkest pieces of art that has been released this year. The deceptively dance-glam beat is contrasted with a very dark sentiment expressed in the lyrics. Through this, the song is able to be somewhat popular while still expressing deep thoughts.
With three solid tracks under the new albums, belt time remained my final enemy. I tried not to wear out these songs to my ear as I wanted to hear the album as the band intended. As a result, I almost was startled when the album arrived. american dream was released on September 1, 2017, and the 6 years of turmoil within me would finally come to fruition.
The first thing that I noticed is that every song on the album starts with a lowercase letter. This could be done purely for aesthetic purposes but we all know that’s stupid. It is kind of weird to see the word “american” in lowercase (google docs doesn’t like it) and this could be used to diminish the significance of the phase. Alternatively, this could be used to direct the listener's attention to the relationships described rather than the super ad-friendly, idealized “American Dream.” The album opener, “Oh Baby”, provides a very sharp contrast in vocals and instrumentation. The introduction with a simple beat leads our ears to believe that the instrumentation will evolve to be sweet and soft. This is destroyed when the booming drums and synths come into the mix before the vocals creating this contrarian atmosphere. When Murphy’s vocals enter the fray the instrumentation is not quite overpowering as you may expect. There is a balance struck with his beautiful vocals and chaotic instrumentation. This balance is slowly achieved with both instrumentation and vocals building up on the back of teardrop-like piano keys. The lyrics paint a simple story of a parent struggling with their baby and maybe Murphy’s attempt to calm his own. The song stops with a quiet shhh from Murphy. I love the simplicity of the lyrics with the complexity of the instrumentation it creates such a genuine feel. Thematically this fits in with the “American Dream” theme of family and struggles that ultimately lead to everlasting happiness.
The picture that “Oh Baby” puts in your head transitions well to the overbearing “Other Voices.” The lyrics fill a bit more complex of a narrative compared to “Oh Baby” that only stay this complex throughout the album. In this narrative, Murphy’s love for this baby has changed in this narrative to criticize someone for being a doormat repeating “You’re just a baby now” and “You’re still a pushover for passionate people” over and over again. The instrumentation sounds a bit minimalist like in “Watch the Tapes” from Sound of Silver but fades it in and out with more intense instrumentation. The electronic noises and bass give a great foundation for the song that emanates the Talking Heads. The semi-screaming vocals also give the feel of a Talking Heads song. This instrumental/vocal theme is also explored on “Emotional Haircut” towards the end of the album. The instrumentation is a bit rougher on this song (I guess as the emotion increases so do the volume?). This is the closest that LCD Soundsystem comes to conventional rock on the album with the normal LCD flare.
James Murphy’s unique vocal distortion is an underlying technique used throughout the album. This is seen most on the two tracks “How Do You Sleep?” and “Black Screen.” Both are incredibly long but masterfully done. The pulsing drum beat that kicks off “How Do You Sleep” helps us to climb a mountain that Murphy then shouts from. Murphy again is creating a narrative of sorts but this is drowned out in the intense vocals. These are bone chilling. Comparing this to “Tomorrow Never Knows” by the Beatles where John Lennon was trying to create a similar atmosphere shows just how far music has come. Thematically a mountain can be seen as the pinnacle of the American Dream. Climbing the mountain can be seen as the idealized struggle that we must all go through in order to get to the serene top. But on top of this mountain, everything is not so hunky dory. Murphy constantly has us analyze how the American Dream is not perfect. The album-ending is the chilling “Black Screen” which, like “Oh Baby,” brings the problems of a modern America to simpler lyrics. This is the most obvious critique the album places of society (one I think is becoming a cliché) about our obsession with our phones. The way that Murphy takes this a step further is with the line “Earth one from satellites/All streaming/Feels slow at seventeen thousand miles an hour.” Even with this insane technology we still find struggle when our HD stream is buffering. This strikes me as odd because the whole album comprises of Murphy analyzing struggles that still populate our American Dream. The instrumentation I feel is very similar to that of “Supersymmetry” by Arcade Fire. The main chunk of the song comprises of very low key beautiful vocals and instrumentation that feels like a soft finale. This is then contrasted by the very minimalist instrumentation after the main vocals that lulls me to sleep. “Supersymmetry” do this for me and James Murphy helped to produce Reflektor and I can see his style in both songs clear as day.
The only songs I didn’t truly love where “i used to” and “change yr mind.” Incidentally, this is where the tomfoolery with the names actually gets in the way. These songs are not bad by any means but I just didn’t love the instrumentation and the vocals were very plain compared to the rest of the album. Any redeeming qualities are lost with the mediocre performance that makes up most of these songs. The only overarching qual I have with this album is that the lyrics are pretty similar throughout the songs. I know that this helps in creating an overarching theme but they all seem like James Murphy describing someone's day with colorful songwriting. It could be worse but it is not the band’s best lyrics.
LCD Soundsystem once again creates a quite beautiful marriage between rock electronic and dance music. After all this rollercoaster of a “hiatus”, there is a little part of me that thinks Murphy strategically broke up the band for a number one album return (probably not). The return to glory has undoubtedly cemented the band among music elites. This is not LCD Soundsystem’s best or most experimental work but it does stay very loyal to a concept both instrumentally and thematically. This is a new era but doesn’t quite feel like it I only hope the band creates many more great albums for me to tirelessly consume.
Listen to the album on Spotify:
Listen to the album on Apple Music: