In a recent interview, James Murphy said that he reformed LCD Soundsystem out of a query from David Bowie.
“He said, ‘Does it make you uncomfortable?’ I said ‘Yeah’, and he said, ‘Good – it should. You should be uncomfortable’.”
Which is a surprise to know since James Murphy has practically made his entire career out of looking incredibly uncomfortable. The way he poses for pictures in his somewhat-hunched and disinterested stance, his clothing that makes him look like he’s a waiter who just got off of the worst double shift of his life, and his stage presence that requires him to obscure his face with a square microphone that makes him look like he’s hosting a PTA meeting. And that’s before getting to the actual music of LCD Soundsystem: at times jittering, futuristic disco music or full-volume, in your face punk that makes the kids jump when they know they can’t dance, Murphy’s innovative musical collective doesn’t make you step in rhythm. It’s for the introverted music geeks that try to tell everyone how underrated The Modern Lovers are who don’t know how to dance but will be damned if they don’t hit the dancefloor. It’s not for weddings, parties, or even nightclubs. It’s dance music made for the uncomfortable.
Six years after supposedly signing off for good at their now-legendarily petty Madison Square Garden gig, LCD Soundsystem have returned more unsure of themselves and the world around them than ever before. Despite it’s shining cover art and the title of “American Dream,” the band’s fourth album has very little blue skies and sunshine. Only one track of the album’s ten is a mere two seconds under the five-minute mark as Murphy and co. roll out robotic synthesizers, distorted guitars, and rolling drum beats for 69 minutes.
At first listen, everything sounds like business as usual: “other voices” has a strong jungle groove with a dual bass-drum funk roll while an omnipresent synth line washes over the song at the end. There’s also the jarring scratch guitar phasing in and out of “change yr mind” and the haunting electronics of “i used to” and “american dream.” Even “tonite,” the album’s centerpiece, has lyrics and music that make it sound like the spiritual successor to the band’s iconic singles “Losing My Edge” and “Sound of Silver” with its repeating bass synth and two-step dance beat.
But a closer listen will reveal that something seems…lost. LCD Soundsystem marked their early career with album tracks jumping back and forth between the bratty, unhinged attitude of Gang of Four and Buzzcocks to the spacey, experimental art rock of Roxy Music and Bowie. There’s a stark difference between “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and “Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up” in volume and delivery. But many of the songs on American Dream feel a touch too synthetic and watered down. “oh baby” and “i used to” both have overwhelming volume and atmosphere despite the former being the opening ballad and the latter being a spacey jam, while “call the police” and “emotional haircut” are the more upbeat tracks despite neither of them being any more or less propulsive than the other. American Dream feels like a streamlined sound instead of embracing chaos. Perhaps this is Murphy wanting a perfect comeback record, to make the message of band’s comeback as crystalline as possible. But if there was ever a moment where an album needed to be chaotic and boisterous, it would be a comeback album especially one by LCD Soundsystem.
On the flip side, there’s little cause for triumph in any case within American Dream’s lyrics. Murphy’s state of mind is the focal point of the album, and he doesn’t sound like he’s in a good place at the moment. He’s alone and romantically starved (“You’re already gone/My love life stumbles on”), lost in his own memories and ambitions (“I’m still trying to wake up”), and very afraid of both his peers and elders (“The old guys are frightened and frightening to behold/The kids come out fighting and still doing what they’re told”). It’s easy to think Murphy is in the midst of a mid-life crises, as uses “call the police” to point out the madness in the world today (“Well, there’s a full-blown rebellion but you’re easy to confuse/By triggered kids and fakers and some questionable views”).
Like John Lennon before him, Murphy uses “how do you sleep?” to rail against a former business partner: DFA co-founder Tim Goldsworthy (“Standing on the shore, getting off/You left me here amid the vape clouds/I must admit I missed the mountain/But not so much you”). Murphy, once filled with slight modicums of optimism, is now fully in the muck of modern cynicism. What makes it work, and what’s worked in Murphy’s songs before, is the blunt lyrics brought to the table given with such a boldfaced bravado that it’s respectable and incredibly entertaining. Even in a state of utter melancholy, Murphy still has the balls to be the old man yelling at cloud with every form of self-awareness.
To be honest, American Dream is probably the only way LCD Soundsystem could’ve come back. The youthful energy is gone and air of experimentation is a bit stale, but the band is still connected and full of grooves. It’s a veteran act (yes, they’re veterans now) returning to see things a bit worse than when they left and have no time to be coy. American Dream is straightforward because if James Murphy is going to piss off his fans after taking his final bows, he’s not going to sugarcoat it for anyone. So be uncomfortable with American Dream, because James Murphy’s been lounging comfortable for too long.