LCD Soundsystem american dream

[DFA/Columbia; 2017]

Styles: post-punk, post-disco, new wave
Others: Arthur Russell, Joy Division, New Order, David Bowie, Talking Heads, Suicide

Upon first listen, LCD Soundsystem’s new album feels like the sonic mobilization of Danny Glover’s catchphrase as Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon: “I’m too old for this shit.” The line signifies the cop’s commitment to continue fighting the good fight in spite of creeping ambivalence and unfamiliar lethargy. This isn’t a backhanded way to say that James Murphy is literally old — he’s not. But it sounds like he may think he is; he says as much on “change yr mind,” one of the album’s more despairing tracks. As always, he’s the spokesman for we who are continually growing older and more disenfranchised. We want to dance, but we’re tired. We want to love, but we’re damaged. We want to be cool, but we’re losing our edge. We want to fight the bad guys, but we also just don’t give that much of a shit anymore.

I drop the needle on opening track “oh baby,” and it sounds like I’ve accidentally put on the Dunkirk soundtrack, with its ticking-clock pulses and muted cymbal. Alas, buoyant arpeggios creep in, followed by an unmistakably “LCD Soundsystem” bass riff. High-flying synths leave airy trails of sound behind them, while snares hiss and sail away into the blue skies above. Murphy delivers typically catchy, endearing lyrics such as “Oh baby/ Lean into me/ There’s always a side door/ Into the dark.” As a song, “oh baby” is well-constructed and gripping, but I have a gut feeling that there’s something too saccharine about this music and that there’s something masking about the song’s grandness. These shiny, polished, new wave-y tracks want to make us feel like we’re privy to a kind of wisdom and quality that can only come from someone outside of the typical year, make, and model of the acceptable rock singer, i.e., James Murphy. Yeah, “oh baby” is epic and charming, but is that enough? No, not for an album that makes reference to revolution and the bourgeoisie. Like the incomplete bourgeois revolution that Murphy alludes to, the past still haunts us in this album’s music and themes.

LCD Soundsystem have always been best when they’re drowning in sharp, synth-drenched pathos, their most successful recipe comprising bursts of sincerity and introspectiveness that rise high when set to combinations of musical styles from 40 years ago. I’m usually skeptical of “music that sounds like other music,” but at least Murphy does it well. Post-punk freak-out track “emotional haircut” kicks ass and aspires toward the musical essence of Joy Division. Still, I wonder about whether any of these styles are really being elevated. “i used to” sounds like Berlin trilogy-era Bowie. “change yr mind” sounds like Talking Heads and Prince, with its winding, chromatic guitars. “how do you sleep?” is reminiscent of New Order. The music of american dream is catchy, but it’s also occasionally boring. These songs do reveal good musicianship and teamwork from the band, but they don’t always pack the elegance of the layering and orchestration of “You Wanted a Hit” or the — sorry, I’m going to say it — catchy, motoric flow of their greatest triumph, “All My Friends.”

american dream is a great reconciliation of the two sides of LCD Soundsystem: the post-punk side that wants to rock us to hell and the post-disco/new wave side that wants to get fucked up and dance. american dream draws out good reflections on the monotony of daily life and the sadness it often brings. Its best songs are the ones that maintain the spark of originality that has always threaded through LCD Soundsystem’s work, like “emotional haircut,” “oh baby,” and “american dream.” These are songs about relatable topics like getting older and letting life slip through your fingers, wondering if the best years are behind you, trying to find people who accept your despair, finding the right combo of drugs, worrying about appearances, and contemplating relationships past. Despite what they say in interviews, it’s clear that LCD Soundsystem came back because they have found that there’s really nothing better to do than play rock music with your friends. It’s not the path to completing the bourgeois revolution, but it’s a fine, American way to pass time.

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