Categorized | Arts & Entertainment

LCD Soundsystem’s american dream develops new direction

Harrison Todd
Contributing Writer

Songs in LCD Soundsystem’s oeuvre have always been about one thing — the build. From the anthemic “All My Friends” to the oft-overlooked, moshable “Yea — Crass Version,” frontman James Murphy has always known how to make his listeners yearn for the grand finale, for connection on a packed dancefloor. He does this by following a relatively straightforward formula: after several minutes of steady, pulsing bass, he layers synths, guitar solos and the understated power of a single repetitious drum pattern. By the end of the song, Murphy has his listeners screaming, dancing in fits of catharsis ushered in by finding the perfect time to bombastically blast the bass.

This is the magic of LCD Soundsystem, and it’s not quite what’s on their latest record, the wearier, atmospheric american dream. Released last Friday, the album is a quiet revelation, not the band’s best work, but a vital addition nonetheless. Longtime fans and DJ’s looking for the next dancefloor hit (A La “Dance Yrself Clean”) might worry about this softer direction, but further listens expose lyrical and sonic intimacy seen in the lowercase aesthetic of the album title and song titles. In retrospect, Murphy’s songwriting has always been building to american dream, slowly drifting from dance punk to dream pop.

Consider “how do you sleep?”, the album’s inspired midpoint. Pat Mahoney’s drums are heavy and repetitive under wailing strings that wouldn’t feel out of place in a horror film. Murphy’s discordant vocals are similarly distant, swathed in reverb and baked in loneliness. Four minutes later, the bass is slapping, Murphy is screaming and quiet head nods transform into emphatic bangs. Despite following the exact song structure so prominent in LCD’s discography, “sleep?” favors atmosphere over the outright grooves built to in the band’s previous work.

The best songs on american dream exist somewhere in between the outright bangers of the early LCD Soundsystem days and the abstract, expressionistic late-career work of influence David Bowie. This can be said for the funky, polyrhythmic “change yr mind,” or the breathy album opener “oh baby.” Guitar riffs and vocal wails consistently steal the show, particularly on late album cut “emotional haircut.” Not every track fares well, though; the singles (“tonite,” “call the police” and “american dream”) form the weakest run of songs, retreading old ground without adding anything. They’re not bad, but they reveal no new complexities on an album packed with nuance.

Not until the twelve-minute album closer “black screen” does the listener fully recognize the build that the album (and the band) has been working toward. The softest track on the album, Murphy finds wonders in nothing but a few piano chords that appear after nearly eight minutes of a softly entrancing synth. The central metaphor — “you could be anywhere on a black screen” — is simultaneously lonely and optimistic. With the pulsing minimalism behind Murphy, one can’t help but imagine him on an empty dancefloor at the end of a long night out. He’s not dancing though; he’s looking for meaning in the past and direction for the future.

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