In light of their forthcoming release and summer tour, we thought it’d be a good time to refresh people’s memory with a history of LCD Soundsystem’s killer releases over their short but oh-so-sweet career. It was an unpredictable, glorious, even capricious journey. Best of all, Murphy and co. kept us on the edge of our seats throughout. Even when we thought it was all done and dusted after the massive goodbye tour (followed up by the excellent documentary, ‘Shut Up And Play The Hits’), it turns out LCD are set to make a triumphant return.
Here we take a look at the releases that have defined LCD Soundsystem as one of the most forwarding thinking, influential bands of the 21st century thus far.
- - -
‘LCD Soundsystem’ (2005)
Before the release of the LCD’s eponymous debut, James Murphy was already an established name as the man behind DFA records despite its early ups and downs. By numerous industry folk, he was recognised as one of the most innovative music makers in New York. To everyone else, he was thought of as one of the coolest cats to come out of New York in the early 21st Century. 2002’s debut ‘Losing My Edge’ swiftly turned heads as Murphy’s dry, sardonic critique of New York’s musical frotting contests drew admiring and envious glances in equal measure.
It was three full years until LCD’s first full studio album arrived. Eyebrows were raised as the aforementioned single that had garnered so much excitement only featured on the LP’s bonus disk. However those question marks were quashed as the record opened up with ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’. That instantly authoritative and unapologetic opening set the tone for the rest of the album, introducing us to Murphy’s unique nasal dance sounds that were to come over the following five years. The record is full of the guitar sounds Murphy grew up on, and similarities with some of the early post-punk DFA releases are crystal clear. See ‘Great Release’ for Brian Eno inspired ambience, while ‘Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up’ lies somewhere between The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
Having said all that, Daft Punk got their second shout out on ‘Losing My Edge’, perhaps signalling a different direction the group would be taking for the second album. One that would in fact see a return to Murphy’s early days as a New York DJ, incorporating more synthesisers with less Suicide influenced guitars.
- - -
'45:33' was, unbeknownst to many, commissioned by Nike as part of a jogging campaign. While a statement was released claiming the piece was refined after a number of efforts on the treadmill, it appears Murphy never saw it that way. He later confessed that he never jogs, and is in fact more interested in mixed martial arts. It turns out he was a kick boxer as a kid. Who knew?
As for the name, you’d be forgiven for thinking the opera-future composition is a nod to John Cage’s avant-garde 1952 piece 4’33’’. In fact Murphy later revealed that he saw the project as an opportunity to produce something in the mould of Manuel Göttsching’s 1984 long-form record ‘E2-E4’. The piece actually contains what was to become ‘Someone Great’, featuring on ‘Sound Of Silver’ - a tune that would define the increasing profundity of Murphy’s music and lyrics.
- - -
‘Sound Of Silver’ (2007)
‘Sound Of Silver’ is arguably LCD’s most accessible record, as Murphy made a move to incorporate the much-maligned indie-pop scene into his über modern punk-rock dance sound. This exciting ménage-a-trois produced possibly some of their greatest and best-known tracks such as ‘All My Friends’, ‘Get Innocuous’ and ‘Someone Great’. While their debut was filled with ad-libbed lyrics, ‘Sound Of Silver’ has a much more predetermined direction.
In stark contrast to its predecessor, tracks such as ‘North American Scum’ and ‘All My Friends’, showcase Murphy’s talent as a lyricist, confronting some of his political and personal quarrels. The former looks at the North American psyche in the early years of the 21st Century, gripped by a sense of fear and guilt at America’s foreign policy. ‘I know you wouldn’t touch us with a ten-foot pole’ is the clearest expression of Murphy’s concerns. "We can’t have parties like in Spain…or in Berlin where they go another night" follows in a similar vein. Lines line this mock America’s underground party scene, simultaneously casting envious looks at a perceived sense of European liberalism.
‘All My Friends’ is possibly the most sincere, emotional piece on ‘Sound Of Silver’, exploring the inevitabilities of growing up and leaving behind a carefree, heady youth. Ultimately it comes down to missing your friends, something anyone with a heart can relate to. The setting for these realisations is a weekend binge with no limit on time. Reducing the track to its core, we need look no further than line; “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision, for another 5 years of life”. ‘Someone Great’ is another poignant story of loss, though the lyrics are stuffed full of alluring ambiguity. For all we know, ‘someone’ could be a reference to New York, while the basement he later references might as well be his studio.
Just as their debut record had opened with Murphy’s mocking of his hometown’s music scene, ‘Sound Of Silver’ ends with the resigned ‘New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down’. It is a definite nod to The Velvet Underground in sound and sentiment. Whether the notion is wholly genuine, we shall never know, but there is a degree of spikiness to it that smacks of political and social unrest in Murphy’s soul. The tune is accompanied by a video featuring a glum Kermit bringing the record to an end on the banks of the Hudson. Visual humour rubbing up against vocal disenfranchisement is testament to the contrasting, unpredictable yet consistent brilliance of LCD’s sophomore effort.
- - -
‘This is Happening’ (2010)
Before the release of their third album, Murphy claimed it would be better than the other two, as well as stating it was likely to be the last we would ever hear of LCD Soundsystem. The album brought together all the best bits of the first two albums; it was the ultimate LCD hybrid piece. ‘All I want’ sees a return to some of the Bowie-esque guitar sounds so reminiscent of the debut record. Listening to lines like, ‘From now on, I’m someone different, ‘cuz it’s no fun to be predictably lame…take me home’, Murphy’s state of mind speaks for itself. Sadly, it seemed that the embodiment of LCD had no intention of continuing a journey only 8 years after it had begun.
‘You Wanted A Hit’ lashes out at those who, well, struggle to see further than the hits. “You wanted a hit, but maybe we don’t do hits” is the opening line and Murphy delivers it in a tone that screams absolute indifference. It’s an obvious middle finger to those referenced above. Second track ‘Drunk girls’ is not quite a return to the crowd friendly tunes of ‘Sound Of Silver’, but it’s probably as close as we get on the album. Regardless of the music, there’s much to be said for the context and circumstance surrounding the album.
This was the culmination of Murphy’s accidental rise to be one of the ‘coolest’ figures in the naughties music scene. Being a scenester wasn’t on the agenda at the time of DFA and later LCD’s inception. However, Murphy admitted at the time of release that, “If someone’s going to make me their idea of cool, then I can’t control that”.
- - -
As LCD’s massive Madison Square Gardens gig drew to a close we were all left thinking about Murphy’s legacy. In the space of the three studio albums over five years, Murphy goes from nasal rambler to sombre introvert and finally onto snide critic. And as an avant-garde music maker, we have loved him all the more for it. They have since been inducted into Rolling Stone’s list of ‘New Immortals’ alongside Green Day, Beyoncé and Kanye West – can anyone really argue with that?
Add that to the fact that tickets for their new shows sold out in record time and it couldn’t be clearer that LCD’s appeal endures and Murphy will be remembered as one of the most intelligent, witty and ‘cool’ artists around, whether he likes it or not.
- - -
Words: Milo Wasserman
Catch LCD Soundsystem at Lovebox this summer.