Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Rolling 10: LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver

Reviewing the latest LCD Soundsystem album today, as in mid June, may feel as relevant as reviewing the "latest" My Bloody Valentine record. It has been an epoch of three months since the official release of LCD Soundsystem's sophomore album, Sound Of Silver, and the album's leak occurred shortly after Big Bang. However, all these cataclysmic events, the leak notwithstanding, occurred within the year we call 2007, a period of time which you and I are going to continue to endure for the rest of the year. So, I'm choosing to be stubborn. I'm sticking to this "2007" for notable Top 10 release candidates -- official releases even -- without addressing the evolution of life that has developed since. I'm old and proud. Respect or get off my lawn, you crazy kids.

LCD Soundsystem, aka James Murphy and friends, is the product of a DJ and/or music enthusiast creating amplified disco that incorporates a cornucopia of elements from all those other rock and/or dance bands he's into -- ranging from The Sonics to Soft Cell, or any number of the bands he name-dropped in his debut novelty hit "Losing My Edge." Murphy is the lead singer as well, sounding similar to Mark E. Smith -- unsurprisingly, given Murphy's admission to being heavily influenced by The Fall.

After releasing a slew of singles since 2002, LCD Soundsystem's debut self-titled album from 2005 (which includes a bonus disc culling most of the earlier single tracks) expands on the original concept. Not every song on LCD Soundsystem is, at base, a disco/rock fusion. Some songs on the album increase the tempo and funk, such as "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House", the most successful single to date. Other songs such as "Great Release" are direct homages to complementary styles and artists -- in this case, Brian Eno's initial "pop" years.

Sound Of Silver barely changes the process that created LCD Soundsystem. The ratio of exceptions to the norm are the same. Murphy is certainly drawing inspiration from different bands than on the debut album. However, talking strictly about the instrumentation, Sound Of Silver is not a departure...

..that is, if one ignores the lyrics.

If LCD Soundsystem's mission was "Let's Move!", Sound Of Silver's mission is "Let's Move... on."

What do I mean by "Let's move on"? Everything, upon comparing and contrasting the lyrics to both albums.

LCD Soundsystem primarily focuses on the here, the now, and the youth -- and how incredibly anxious that combination is, or was:

  • "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" is pure fan-boy role play, fantasizing about exactly what the song title suggests.
  • "Tribulations" celebrates energy overcoming setbacks: "Everybody makes mistakes/but i feel alright when i come undone/you are not making me wait/but it seems alright as long as something's happening"
  • "Movement" boasts being set but missing some u-know-what: "Because where is love?/I got one thing I want/I got one thing I need/'Cause I got everything else/You got to t-t-t-t-touch me [x4]"
  • "Never As Tired As When I'm Waking Up" expresses, in many ways, feeling much younger than one actually is: "Wasted and complacent/and you about the same/but still i want to get it/on with you tonight/when i was a little boy/i laid down in the grass/i'm sure you'd feel the same/if i could fuck you here tonight"
  • "Disco Infiltrator" insists shaking your stuff but not forgetting to give you that important after-school special refrain: "Bare in mind, we all fall behind, from time to time"

There are a couple of moments of ambivalence, in regards to the main theme relating to youthfulness.

  • "Too Much Love" is pondering a less enjoyable future, subtlely answering or clouding the question with the song title's phrase: "What will you say when the day comes/When it's no fun/When it's all done/When it's no fun/What will you say when the time comes/There's a dry run when it's undone/And there's no one"
  • "Great Release", the album's ender, fulfills that end-of-pop-album cliché hinting the end of something is near, what that "something" is remains unclear, but that it will be replaced by a new thing: "And it feels like it's coming home/And it feels like it's full of love/Still in time is the great release/Something dying will be a great release"

That final lyric is correct, literally. Sound Of Silver is a great release indeed! *Arf Arf Drum Fill* However, it's worth noting that the "Something dying" portion is relevant to Sound Of Silver, literally, as well. Resolution, reflection, escape, and death are this album's themes:

  • "Get Innocuous!" starts with a beat akin to "Losing My Edge" yet exhibits crushed naivety and a Kraftwerk-like emotionless despair: "home - home in the late-night/and away - away in the half-life/except saturday - crushed by the boring/until played and plagued by the tourists again". Chorus: "you can normalize/don't it make you feel alive"
  • "Time To Get Away" explains itself: "and so it's time to get away/it's time to get away - from you/I'm dying to get away - I'm dying to get away"
  • "North American Scum", the closest this album gets to a novelty hit, is a relatively complex song about American self-disillusionment: "so throw a party till the cops come in and bust it up/let's go north americans/oh - you were planning it - i didn't mean to interrupt/(sorry)/i did it once and my parents got pretty upset/freaked out in north american/but then I said the more i do it the better it gets/that's my north america"
  • "Someone Great", the album's highlight and consensus-crowned hit single, is an elaborate memoir for a close one now gone: "I wake up and the phone is ringing/surprised as it's early/and that should be a perfect warning/that's something's a problem/to tell the truth i saw it coming/the way you were breathing/but nothing can prepare you for it/the voice on the other end[...]" (The backing track borrows from the mid-electronic portion of the long-form piece, 45:33, released in 2006 as part of an advertisement for Nike.)
  • "All My Friends" is a song longing for access to one's friends in the context of what seems like nightmarish tour anxiety: "to tell the truth - this could be the last time/so here we go - like a sales force into the night/and if i'm made a fool - if I'm made a fool/if I'm made a fool on the road - there's always this/and if i'm sued into submission/i can still come home to this"
  • "Us vs. Them" expresses day-to-day stress in the context of, perhaps, running a dance-oriented record label?: "the time has come today/and all the good people want rescue/all the clever people wanna tell you/that all the little people wanna dance (it's true!)/the time has come today"
  • "New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down", the album ender, is quite self explanatory, despite showcasing a dizzying pendulum of emotions regarding one's feeling for New York: "new york, I love you but you're bringing me down/like a death of the heart/jesus, where do I start?/but you're still the one pool where I'd happily drown."

So, my first thought is: "James! What's happened, man? You're sounding more gloomy than Robert Smith in the early 80s! OK, maybe not that bad, but still.. wow, come have a drink or call me, k?"

Gloominess or disillusionment off the heels of "party time", in the context of album progression, is extremely common, and spans all music genres over pop music history. What makes Sound Of Silver a noteworthy example is that the musical template sounds like a continuation and progression from its more lyrically upbeat predecessor. However, given the lyrics, it's a cohesive swan song concept record, whereas LCD Soundsystem sounds more like a collection of energetic singles and B-sides. Ironically, the debut's bonus disc of early singles sounds more like a cohesive album than the debut album itself.

I hate to be that guy that says that miserable albums are inherently better than happy albums, but that stereotype rings true for Sound Of Silver. LCD Soundsystem is a great debut, but certainly is the sound of a band getting its feet wet trying to master the art of making The Album. Sound Of Silver is The Album finally coming together and soaring because of it, at the expense of Murphy's psyche, apparently.

You want more details? Well, I would provide mp3 samples, but you probably had those for Holiday Season dinner last December! Oh, and let me show you how I first approached my review for Sound Of Silver. Fans of the LCD often talk more about what bands and songs each track is ripping off rather than cut through the other elements. It's an easy trap, as many of us are music geeks just like James Murphy. We enjoy the music so much that we can't help play music geek games with what we're given. My first scan of the album produced the following notes based on this band/song/genre comparison Yahtzee scorecard:

get innocuous:
losing my edge
kraftwerk "the robots"
david bowie singing

time to get away:
stripped down funk/disco
90s house

north american scum:
early New Order/Joy Div
mark e singing/brix yelling

someone great:
that cool shit from 45:33
the mfa/yello/depeche
brian wilson/van dyke parks/xylophone
kim fahey/dogbowl type singing

all my friends:
steve reich/polyrock/la dusseldorf
early new order
ian mcculloch type singing

Us vs. Them:
"primitive" by killing joke but faster
more disco/moroder/cowbell! "yeah"-like
early heaven 17! dour vers. of heaven 17 style vocal harmonizin

watch the tapes:
"always now" section 25 but synth-bass/double claps everywhere!
Aaawooohoo! sockhop! cheerleading vocals. where's toni basil?

sound of silver:
hello phil oakey. MAJOR YELLO BONER!
that one blissy godley and creme song.

new york i love you but you're bringing down:
piano lounge/rolf the dog
TOTO "Hold The Line" ROCK OUT

Now, how pathetic is that shit? Sure, it's funny. But this was a serious attempt to draft my first review of this album! I know I'll never fully escape the rut of making band comparisons while writing music reviews, but I initially saw LCD Soundsystem as a grand buffet for that practice. Perhaps it was that sickly bloated feeling I felt after re-reading those notes. I'm happy I felt sick in retrospect. Perhaps, this side of me should write cluster diagrams in PowerPoint if I'm going to take such an approach to future records? Pffff, never mind. That's even more pathetic.


And our second entry into The Rolling Ten of '07. Admittedly, I've probably listened to Sound Of Silver moreso than any other album this year so far, yet I have a sense that something else is going to come along and show it who's boss. So, to #2 it goes.

Top 10 of 2007 so far...

2. LCD Soundsystem - Sound Of Silver
3. Monstrance - Monstrance

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Blogger dea said...

ok I saw this.... I like some daft punk songs and I like Daft Punk is playing at my house... video is really ok..... well I tried to find TIime To Get Away and I found it here....

1:23 PM  

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