Wednesday, 30 June 2010

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

James Murphy has always been something of an elder-statesman of the disco/dance/punk music scene, but now, aged 40, he’s apparently decided to bring LCD Soundsystem to an end. With ‘This Is Happening’ he’s ended the band on a high, showing courage to jump ship before the ship has even started sinking.

Staring middle-age in the face, he must be starting to realise that he can’t go on being the oldest person at his own DJ sets for much longer: in album opener ‘Dance Yrself Clean’ the singer laments, “everybody’s getting younger/ it’s the end of an era- it’s true”. Despite this, Murphy is not shrinking away quietly, as the song erupts into a glorious battle between a drumbeat and a pulsating keyboard riff. Guitar driven and unashamedly stupid in the same way that ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ was, the raucous ‘Drunk Girls’ sustains the momentum. The song is Murphy’s soundtrack to the kinds of parties he’s too old to go to nowadays, where food isn’t safe in cupboards and boys and girls wake up in bed together. If this is to be LCD Soundsystem’s last album, these two songs show that the band have left some of their best till last.

A self-confessed music dweeb, Murphy is the first to admit that LCD aren’t the most original of bands, more the sum of their influences, often making a song with the sole purpose of sounding like someone else. This can backfire, as in third song ‘One Touch’, which owes too much to its obscure electro-punk influences. Sometimes though, when they’ve channeled bands like Joy Division (‘All My Friends’) and The Beatles (‘Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up’), the results can be inspired. In ‘All I Want’, Murphy turns to Bowie, borrowing the elongated guitar note that runs through ‘Heroes’ and creating something altogether new. The music brims with confidence and style, contrasting with Murphy’s lyrics which invert ‘Heroes’’ optimism, revealing his insecurities: “now all I want is your pity / or all I want is your bitter tears”. The song ends with Murphy wailing to be taken home, a morose feeling of homesickness that reappears throughout different songs on the album that isn’t lifted until final song ‘Home’.

The self-deprecating ‘I Can Change’ sees Murphy mix his love of the best of 80s-synth-pop with his ability to write surprisingly earnest and emotive lyrics, in this case about unrequited love: “tell me a line, make it easy for me / open your arms, dance with me until I feel alright”. He’s America’s equivalent to Guy Garvey from Elbow, except he lives in New York, listens to Suicide and thinks a Mancunian is something you get done to clean your nails. ‘You Wanted A Hit’, a self-reflexive account of songwriting, which at 9 minutes long sums up Murphy’s position on the subject of writing ‘hits’: “You wanted a hit- but maybe we don’t do hits/ I try and try… it ends up feeling kind of wrong”. The song is satisfying in its simplicity, a conversation between Murphy and the listener set to a steady drumbeat and a weaving keyboard line, with a brash, Gang Of Four-esque guitar solo in the middle.

But not all the songs come up to the standard set on ‘Sound Of Silver’, with ‘Pow Pow’ erring towards the annoying and ‘Somebody’s Calling Me’, written in a haze of anti-anxiety medicine, structured around the queasy-drone of a synthesizer and a single piano note, is baffling in all the wrong ways. ‘Home’, on the other hand, rescues the album, the closest the band will come to writing a perfect feel-good (albeit 8 minute) pop song, an amalgamation of keyboards, guitars, drums, harmonies and lyrics like “if you’re afraid of what you need look around you, you’re surrounded, it won’t get any better so good night”. All this combines to close an album that, despite its slight inconsistencies, if it is to be LCD Soundsystem’s last, should be cherished.


I wrote this a few months ago but forgot to put it on here.....

I put it to you that the thousands of internet blogs devoted to finding new music, such as this one, are killing music criticism. The days of paying the seasoned rock critic for their opinion are over, because all we need do now is enter the blogosphere to find out what anyone thinks about a new band, gig or album. Is this tidal wave of free-criticism shining a light on the cream of the crop, helping us choose only the best and most worthy bands to listen to, or is it creating a whirlwind of undeserved hype around new bands?

The thing is, in this post-Arctic Monkeys world in which we now live, we expect any band getting a lot of attention on the internet to replicate what few bands can do, which is release a definitive and trend-setting debut album, like the Arctic Monkey’s debut. And the blame for this lies with the blogger. With everyone so keen to find the ‘best new band’ and to be the one that found them first, a blogger will tell us that this band is the ‘new’ whatever and the music journos follow suit. Unfair predictions of grandeur and comparisons with previous successes risk the destruction of a band at the first hurdle.

Look at The Twang, once hailed as the new-Stone Roses by the NME and looking likely heirs to Oasis’ throne at the top of the lad-rock kingdom in 2007, now damp-squibs at the bottom of a tired and tedious scene, releasing a second album last year that went by unnoticed. Some bands, however, do deserve the hype that they get, and this shows largely in the reviews. The XX, Wild Beasts and These New Puritans have all been hyped to high heaven, but justify it with distinctive and forward-thinking albums.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to rubbish a band that clearly doesn’t warrant the hype that engulfs them. But it’s not really the bands fault that they’re a blogger’s wet dream is it? Look at new internet-darlings The Drums, dubbed by NME as New York's official Coolest New Band... the most contagiously energetic NYC band of the past 10 years’… ridiculous hyperbole certainly gains attention, but how can a band be expected to live up to that kind of introduction?

There’s no doubt that the internet means bands can get their music out faster and to more people than ever before, and we’re the ones that benefit from this. And maybe the hype being spread through the blogosphere is helping great bands get noticed and exposing the shit bands for the pretenders that they really are. But we should start taking the blog-hyperbole with a nice handful of salt and, in the words of someone who has survived the blogger’s curse, Alex Turner, make sure, whatever happens, we ‘Don’t believe the hype’.