After a twenty-year residency at the original DFA Studios, it turns out that an album no-one thought would happen, from the studio’s leading lights, will signal the end of an era now that the building has been sold on. Sure, DFA will continue in its new digs, but the West Village townhouse that James Murphy has partied in and worked from since 1999 will fade gently into the tapestry of New York’s musical history.
LCD Soundsystem aren’t that way inclined, back with their first record in seven years – their first record since breaking up in 2011. That was a move that Murphy has since come to regret – a harsh lesson learned and a regret born from the disillusionment of certain fans who travelled for those final shows and who invested something meaningful in one last goodbye to a band who meant so much. He has since qualified it. LCD Soundsystem will never break up again. They may quit making music together, but if they do, no one is going to say shit about it in advance.
Older, and wiser, Murphy will be the first to admit he wasn’t exactly in the throes of youth when LCD Soundsystem’s eponymous 2005 debut was released. Now, with DFA’s original HQ changing hands and their fourth studio album marking its passing, American Dream is both a full stop and a new chapter for the band. Early in 2015, Murphy played percussion on Blackstar, David Bowie’s final album, and has spoken of the late musician’s influence on the reformation; his insistence that Murphy’s admission about feeling uncomfortable with the notion of reforming is exactly how he should feel. Bowie’s influence is writ large throughout the record, both musically and in the timbre of Murphy’s now-seasoned vocals, and never more so than on ‘Change Yr Mind’ with that uncertainty wrought through the lyrics – “I’m not dangerous now/ The way I used to be once/ I’m just too old for it now/ At least that seems to be true.”
For all of Murphy’s overarching presence, this latest recording wasn’t just an autocratic move on his part. In a lengthy post on the band’s website, he addressed the genesis of this re-animated and reinvigorated LCD Soundsystem, an all or nothing approach meaning all of the original members’ involvement and the pursuit of…better. Sold-off equipment was re-bought and the band unit rebuilt for a triumphant run of shows; the will and the fire of old seemingly rekindled. If you caught them live over this past 18 months, then better was what you got. Better was how you felt. A new album seemed an inevitability.
It’s with an inauspicious start, then, that American Dream opens and the sound of Arcade Fire seems to loom, even despite the punchy, industrial intro. It’s not what we expect from Track 1 on an LCD Soundsystem record. We expect…better. The advance singles, ‘Tonite’ and ‘Call The Police’, also seem somehow misrepresentative – the former more overtly techno-oriented and the latter coming off more like Kings Of Leon when they were good/Strokes when they weren’t so much. Where ‘Call The Police’ tilts to ‘90s indie rocker territory, the album as a whole seems more beholden to the previous decade.
It’s The Cure that spring to mind through the tom-heavy, new wave ‘Emotional Haircut’, and Public Image Ltd. that seems to overshadow the nine outstanding minutes of ‘How Do You Sleep?’ Dark electro gives way to a squall of rock guitar on ‘I Used To’, already on its way to greatness with Murphy’s opening couplet – “I used to dance alone of my own volition/ I used to wait all night for the rock transmissions.” Despite these initial disparities, though, American Dream’s tracklist reveals itself to be a selection with purpose.
LCD Soundsystem were a band that arrived fully formed and Murphy has helmed their subsequent journey, always managing to remain a cut above almost everybody else, not content to just play the hits. At the outset of American Dream, ‘Other Voices’ careens into Funhouse territory on the tailspin of Nancy Whang’s spoken-word segment (“Tell ‘em, Nancy!”). After an aborted break-up and a lengthy absence, there’s something to prove here – older he may be, and wiser, but Murphy’s intuitive and inquisitive feel for melding rock music and dance is undiminished. American Dream achieves this in a more erratic fashion than previous records, toying with mood and momentum and challenging preconceptions of this reformed LCD Soundsystem. The humour is still there, the influences woven in as subtly as ever – it’s a statement from Murphy that he, that they, never really lost their edge.