LCD Soundsystem was introduced to the world in 2002 with an irony-drenched dirge for a pompous thirtysomething’s sense of coolness called “Losing My Edge”. The great joke underpinning this track was that, despite all his insistence to the contrary, James Murphy wasn’t there: he wasn’t there in 1974, at the first Suicide practices in a New York City loft. He wasn’t there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan. He wasn’t even alive in 1968, when Can played their first show in Cologne. No, he was born in 1970, and just barely missed out on what would become his favourite period of music, initially because he was too young to appreciate it, and later because, growing up in small-town New Jersey, he was too far removed from the cities in which these cultural moments were happening. Murphy, ever the neurotic, was acutely aware of this, and in “Losing My Edge” adopted the stance of his worst hipster self as a means of stressing the absurdity of claiming ownership of something that wasn’t even his to begin with. But that’s not entirely right, is it? First-hand experience of music isn’t necessary to feel an ownership or a profound connection to it. Despite the self-lacerating nature of “Losing My Edge”, Murphy seems to recognise this too, as in the music of LCD Soundsystem, and Sound of Silver in particular, we can still hear him putting on all the parties he wasn’t able to attend.
This goes some way to explaining the magpie tendencies that guide Murphy’s songwriting, the clear imprint left by the likes of Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Giorgio Morodor, and Lou Reed, as well as his decision to privilege analogue equipment over digital software when creating the record. Admittedly, it also invites accusations of conservativism, of the project being little more than an exercise in a borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered seventies and eighties, but I’m unconvinced by such charges for a couple of reasons. First, while LCD Soundsystem is undoubtedly a product of nostalgia, Murphy also interrogates it. He’s not merely indulging his influences or recreating the past; he’s delving into the past to forge something new, to connect the dots between disparate sounds and movements and producing a heady, indelible blend of electronica and rock. Second, the sense of longing inherent in this album’s aesthetic serves as the base for what is Murphy’s most sincere, mature, and emotionally complicated record to date. Indeed, the lyrical content here is frequently somber and contemplative, with songs addressing the trials and tribulations of life on the road, the loss of friendship, and the gentrification of his adopted city (within which he was complicit). Given this, then, a retreat to the sounds of one’s adolescence, that party music of one’s heart, would seem like a natural comfort. But it’s never that easy, because, as the title track reminds us, that adolescent state is patently undesirable because being a teenager fucking sucked. So we are left with an unresolved contradiction, one of the many that mark this record as one of the most complex, affecting, and goddamn thrilling of its generation.10 10
Favourite tracks // Someone Great
All My Friends
I struggled with this one. Listening through it’s obvious how much love and craftsmanship went into making Sound of Silver, and the influences — from Talking Heads to Bowie — bounce around quite happily, but I can never really get on board with what’s happening. For every dance stormer like “Get Innocuous!” there’s a track I find repetitive and frigid. When the record lets its hair down and gets to the point it’s a true (goofy) groovefest. The opener’s a blinder, and “North American Scum” is super sharp. The closer’s lovely too. Good spells abound, and yet, ultimately, a solid chunk of the album sounds like a glossy, sterile homage to music I’d rather be listening to, and that’s as far as it gets.
I’m aware how alone I am in this, and I don’t write this with any pretense of saying the emperor has no clothes or something similar. All I’m saying is, from where I’m standing, he’s a little skimpily clad. I think it boils down to whether you’re willing to buy into a sound like this or not. If, as is the case with “Someone Great”, a dirge set to Nike running music is a combination you can let your defenses down for, then more power to you. Me? I’m a cold, guarded sort of chap and it’s not a frequency I care for. I can only treat it so seriously. Nostalgia’s an odd, often magical feeling, but however slick the presentation I don’t really want to experience it second hand.7 10
Favourite tracks // Get Innocuous!
North American Scum
New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down
When Sound of Silver first released, I listened without much of a context nor much of a musical background. I was won over by distinctive instrumentals, catchy hooks and likeable vocals. I don’t remember a lot beside having a lot of fun with the album. Returning now, nostalgia intact, and knowing a little more about the album and its obvious influencers, I can’t help but still be totally charmed by it. With big dollops of Talking Heads and a fair helping of Bowie too, it mixes its influencers with its own flavour of rolling dance tracks and fidgety indie rock that I can make a lot of time for. “Get Innocuous!”, “North American Scum” and “New York, I Love you[…]” are the most popular, and very satisfying, tracks on the album. But the less prominent tracks are just as satisfying to revel in, like “Us v Them”, which blooms out from a simplistic track arrangement to a rolling jam, at times climactic. It’s not alone either, with much of the latter half of the album filled up with songs that could be described in a similar way, such as the title track. Unfortunately for me, Sound of Silver turns my hypocrisy levels up a notch, as I can blissfully ignore both its hour-long play time, and the seven/eight minute length over certain tracks. These are characteristics I often take issue with on other albums, but I’ve yet to become bored or restless with anything in this tracklist. That said, I can certainly see why Sound of Silver isn’t for everyone. The tracks are lengthy — some might think repetitive — the vocal work is by no means strong, and some tracks might even come off as cartoonish or comedic to some. Despite it all, I’m still fundamentally charmed by the record. It is by no means the greatest album in the world, but it’s managed to cling on and make a lasting impression on me that a lot of other music simply doesn’t achieve.9 10
Favourite tracks // New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down
North American Scum