Album review: LCD Soundsystem gets right back to business on 'American Dream'
The reason people were mad that LCD Soundsystem reunited is not because they were annoyed they came back to life, but because they had died a perfect death.
When the group — led by auteur James Murphy — put their band to rest in 2011 with a huge, emotional Madison Square Garden show followed by a live album and a documentary film, it seemed as if Murphy had ended things perfectly, before the rot set in. No bad albums, no missteps. Just a perfectly formed track record, captured at its grandest moment for all to see in perpetuity.
Really, though, when LCD burbled back to life (with a Christmas song of all things) at the end of 2015, it was a move that fit perfectly with everything they had done. Here was a band that was never about perfection. They were all about screwing up, doing things wrong, making mistakes and not learning from them. For a band whose music was always repetitive and dance-y, they were very human people up there. People with round edges instead of square ones, with stubble meant to hide bloat instead of to imply ruggedness. Real people.
Real people get their bands together because they feel like it, artfulness be damned. As Murphy puts it, he started writing music that sounded like LCD music, and he didn't want to go out on the road with a bunch of random people just to not be himself. So he asked his bandmates, and they all wanted to do it again. Simple as that.
So, 2017 finds a new LCD Soundsystem record being released into the wild, and with it comes the scrutiny of scorned fans and skeptical critics. Luckily, the album is good enough to withstand it all, and even though it's not the best LCD Soundsystem LP, it stands shoulder to shoulder with its siblings in the band's discography without seeming slight whatsoever. James Murphy's band is back, and they're a welcome presence.
It takes a bit for "American Dream" to get going though. "Oh Baby" is a perfectly fine song, and it would've been amazing on the soundtrack of any John Hughes movie that isn't "Curly Sue." As an opener and the first song after a seven-year break though, it's too slight, and the "knees/please" rhymes veer too close to cliché.
The second track, "Other Voices," is much more in line with the classic LCD feel, where the electronics and the live instrumentation meld perfectly, and Murphy's method of slowly building a song via the introduction and subtraction of layers is intact. It still remains impressive how Murphy is able to mostly single-handedly make himself sound like some art-damaged Funkadelic/Kraftwerk hybrid through overdubs.
His drumming is still loose and snare-heavy, his vocal cadence is still very much his own, his throbbing, elastic basslines still anchor his songs, and so on and so forth. (Worth noting, though, is the fact that live keyboardist Nancy Whang gets a verse on this song, a nice gesture from Murphy to the band's not-so secret weapon.) The record seems to get better as it goes on, too.
"I Used To" and "Change Yr Mind" are dark, churning, dramatic dirges that have more in common with New Order or even U2 than some of the band's past material. (Although, on second thought, the latter track's skronky Adrian Belew-like guitars are more "out" than either of those bands were.)
While "American Dream" seems to be missing a big old anthem like "Dance Yrself Clean" or "All My Friends," there is no shortage of killer material. "How Do You Sleep" recalls the former, but with a heavy dose of negativity, "Tonite" is the album's talk-sung "Losing My Edge" analogue, and "Call the Police" and "Emotional Haircut" prove more than ever that LCD Soundsystem is a rock 'n' roll band, versus the arch dance-pop group that the media seems to want to portray them as.
By the time the 12-minute reflection on a brief friendship with David Bowie ("Black Screen") ends amid a New-Agey electronic pulse and a mournful piano, it's easy to feel like "American Dream" is LCD Soundsystem's fourth good album in a row, and it might even be one of the most enjoyable records of 2017.
Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Album: "American Dream"
Produced by: James Murphy
Personnel: James Murphy (vocals, etc.), Pat Mahoney (drums, vocals), Nancy Whang (vocals), Tyler Pope (bass), Al Doyle (guitar, vocals, etc.), Gavin Russom (synth, vocals), Korey Richey (vocals, snaps)
Listen to "Tonite" at duluthnewstribune.com