“Borrowed Nostalgia For The Unremembered Eighties”

I think if James Murphy and I hung out we’d get along great. Or at the very least I’d feel great about the conversation while James might walk away from it feeling uncomfortable and weird. Either way, I’m drawn to this bear of a guy that makes electronic disco punk music that is, essentially, about feeling irrelevant in a sea of younger, cooler people. His songs aren’t all “Losing My Edge”, but they possess that spirit of “do people really care anymore?” The earlier stuff had this line of razor-sharp sarcasm that made LCDs work extremely self-aware. Murphy was practically saying “Yeah, I know I’m older than all of you and more tired than all of you…but I’ve got years of living under my belt little buckaroos.”

Sound of Silver is essentially the middle-aged album. It both laments and rejoices growing up and becoming an adult. “All My Friends” will forever be an anthem for those still trying to hold onto our youthful selves and those that made that youth so important to us. That was the record that brought me to LCD Soundsystem, actually. I hadn’t heard anything prior to that album. December 2007. James Murphy had completely avoided my radar. I’d heard rumblings about DFA Records, some guy named Murphy, and Daft Punk. But not until my birthday 2007 and spending a gift certificate at Sam Goody did I really start to know LCD Soundsystem. From Sound of Silver I worked my way back to the self-titled. The library had a copy of it that was a deluxe 2-disc version that had the album plus another disc with “Losing My Edge”, “Disco Infiltrator”, and a few other extended dance tracks. Once I’d heard “Losing My Edge” I knew Murphy was a brother from another mother. The conversation in the song about selling guitars for turntables and CD mixes of all the greatest songs of the 60s landed in just the right spot in my brain. The older DJ battling it out with the younger generation of DJs and musicians,  trying to one up each other I just thought it was amazing. Plus it really opened my head to checking out some of the artists he mentions in the song. Gil Scot Heron, Can, and Yaz were all artists I’d heard of  but never really delved into. Thanks to James Murphy and “Losing My Edge” I became a fan of all three.

Another thing about “Losing My Edge” is that build up in the song. Murphy’s sound ability really shows itself early in this song. He wanted to make electronic dance music, but with a real band. Sure he had stacks of synths everywhere, but he also had this top notch band with him helping him build these musical worlds tipping their hats to Bowie, Can, Yaz, Suicide, Velvet Underground, and countless other artists that had a stake in James Murphy’s brain. Watching them do this live is unbelievable. I mean, I haven’t seen them live except in  Shut Up And Play The Hits, but I was impressed regardless.

James Murphy was 32 years old when he released “Losing My Edge”. He’d been the toast of the DJ world in New York and had seen some serious success. He’d also witnessed a major shift in the musical tide, which I think is where “Losing My Edge” culminated from. Feelings of being left behind by a younger generation and watching as his deep cuts became the norm in the clubs. Without those feelings of his relevancy slipping away and getting the impression that he was becoming the “old guy in the room” we may never have gotten LCD Soundsystem, and most certainly not “Losing My Edge”.

What a sad world that would be. Without LCD Soundsystem and James Murphy, middle-aged guys like me wouldn’t have that glimmer of hope that success in creativity doesn’t have an expiration date. Or that creativity itself doesn’t end when you prefer a cup of coffee to a glass of scotch. I feel that Murphy has gotten better with each successive record. LCD Soundsystem, Sound of Silver, This Is Happening, and now American Dream, he’s proven time and time again that with age does come wisdom. Or at least a well-trained ear that knows how to turn knobs and write a melody really well.

But still, fucking “Losing My Edge” man. It never gets old.


LCD Soundsystem : American Dream

There’s always been something about James Murphy that I’ve been drawn to. Ever since I bought LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver on a whim back in 2007 I’ve been enamored with the guy. Maybe because he’s close to my age. Maybe because he’s a middle-aged guy acting like a middle-aged guy. He’s not posturing the dude-isms of a 25-year old and acting like a malcontent every chance he gets. His passsions seem to lie in vintage synths, coffee, early 70s electronic music, and David Bowie. How can I not feel that on some level James Murphy is my soulmate? Or at the very least someone I’d love to have a cup of coffee with and talk NEU! and Conny Plank.

When LCD Soundsystem called it quits back in 2011 I was sad, for sure. To my ears Murphy and his band seemed to have more to give to the world. This Is Happening was both a glorious record and a melancholy one. There seemed to be a hint of “where do we go next?” going on, and apparently Murphy felt it was time to move on. Their farewell show at Madison Square Garden was a beautiful eulogy for a band still very much alive but not sure where to go. The band went their separate ways and James Murphy took a shot at producing other artists. What he realized was that he didn’t like producing other artists, just him and all his friends. So just like that LCD Soundsystem rose from the ashes of retirement and have returned better than ever. American Dream is the best album James Murphy and friends have made. It’s still steeped in the fun dance punk of their self-titled and the self-aware cynicism of Sound Of Silver. But this time it feels that there’s absolutely no question as to where LCD Soundsystem are going.

“Oh Baby” opens the album on sweetly dreamy note. This song puts me in mind of Suicide’s sweeter moments. Vega and Rev could definitely create tension and anxiety like the best of ’em, but when he wanted to Alan Vega could sound sweet and sincere. “Oh Baby” is the sweeter side of Suicide, with a hint of early Kraftwerk. “Other Voices” is primo LCD. Groovy as hell with Murphy proselytizing from the pulpit of dance rock, it’s a song you won’t be able to keep still through. Nancy Whang jumps in for a verse or two as well. “Change Yr Mind” seethes with Berlin Trilogy-era Bowie. There’s some serious Low vibes going on here. With the guitar squalls, Murphy’s vocal delivery, and the heavy lean on bass this track feels like some sort of musical exorcism. “How Do You Sleep?” is the darkest I think LCD Soundsystem has ever gotten. Tribal drums, vocals sounding as if they’re coming from some endless void, and languid-sounding buzzes and bleeps make for some seriously grim vibes. Imagine Joy Division and Bauhaus trying to outdo each other in their melancholy prime. That would be this epic slow burner.

When the initial singles “American Dream” and “Call The Police” were released I remember feeling a little underwhelmed. They were decent songs, but not “back from the dead” kind of songs. Then “Tonite” was released and all was forgiven. In the context of the rest of the album they fit in quite nicely as these more shinier, upbeat songs. But “Tonite”, that’s just classic, funky LCD Soundsystem. It’s pure giddy dance fun. I hear that song(and watch the video) and I’m reminded of Prince and the Revolution. Maybe that’s a crazy comparison, but I think there’s something to be said for Murphy’s ability to lead a group of great musicians into funky, wonky musical territory.

I once had an emotional haircut. It was a few years ago when I realized I shouldn’t grow my hair out long, what with me being a man of follicle issues. I wish it had been as fun and punky as LCDs “Emotional Haircut”, but alas it was just sorta sad.

“Black Screen” is the epic ending to an epic new beginning. It’s quiet, dense, and hums with tube-driven emotion. I’m not sure James Murphy has ever written a song so subtle and vast as this 12-minute opus. There’s a melancholy feel as the song fades with a pulsating synth and distant piano chimes. Goodbye, cruel world.

Most of these “we’re retiring, goodbye….hey, we’re back!” shenanigans usually end up with the majority consensus being they should’ve stayed retired(I’m looking at you, Pixies.) But LCD Soundsystem breaks the mold as far as comebacks go. Murphy closed the door too soon on his band of electronic misfits, and I think he knew that the day after his retirement party at MSG. I’m glad he can admit when he’s wrong, because American Dream is a beautiful reunion for them and us. And us and them.

8.7 out 10


James Murphy Is Playing At My House

james murphy oneLast night I finally watched LCD Soundsystem’s swan song live documentary Shut Up And Play The Hits.  While it didn’t move me quite like I’d hoped it would(an 8 year old punching couch cushions pretending to be a member of the Justice League throughout the film didn’t help…in my living room, not the movie itself), I was still reminded of how much I’m going to miss LCD Soundsystem.

I’d first heard Murphy’s dance/punk hybrid in 2007 when I bought Sound Of Silver with some birthday money(thanks, ma).james murphy two  Something about that album instantly grabbed me.  Maybe it was the funky booty-shakin’ songs like “Time To Get Away”, “Us V Them”, and album opener “Get Innocuous”.  Or it could’ve been the underlying punk aesthetic of “Watch The Tapes”.  But maybe more than anything it was the middle-aged guy earnestness of songs like “All My Friends”, “Someone Great”, and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”.  Hell, it was all those things.  For the first time in a long while I’d found an artist I could appreciate and admire that wasn’t in diapers when I was graduating high school.  In fact, this guy was born in 1970, three years before me.  I felt this guy was writing from a middle-aged dude’s perspective and not a young dude’s perspective.  But it wasn’t like he was acting his age in the studio.  He was creating these uptempo dance tracks, but not in an electronic musician’s headspace; from a punk rocker’s headspace.  And once I started looking into Murphy’s and LCD Soundsystem’s background and picked up their debut album(the two-disc edition) I’d realized Murphy felt as inadequate in a young man’s world as I did(musically speaking).  “Losing My Edge” was a song about a guy that thought he was relevant, but was finding out he wasn’t nearly as relevant as he thought.  All that cool music and culture you thought you were privy to while everyone else was drooling over their Birkenstocks and Jane’s Addiction bootlegs wasn’t so underground anymore.  I could relate to that.  I felt that, man.  And it was ass-shakin’ tunes, too(well, when no one else was around and all the curtains were shut and the doors were locked).

james murphy threeSo, I’d found a new artist to adore, admire, and grow old with.  In 2010 This Is Happening was released and I loved it.  Long-ish songs, rhythmically heavy -and more lyrics about getting old and dealing with it- all done in an almost David Bowie-meets-middle-age-in-lower-Manhatten-circa-1978 sorta way.  It sounded as if James Murphy -while maybe still not content in his personal life- had found a middle ground artistically.  He was writing like a guy almost 40 years old and he was okay with that.  He still had sass and that New York curmudgeonly lean in his writing, but it didn’t feel bitter.  Sure, I was sorta late to the LCD Soundsystem party, but I thought this was going to be one of those parties that lasted forever(I may be late, but I brought imported beer and Pita chips..they’re in the kitchen).  Well, maybe not forever, but at least until that point where my kids were getting into their records and I could be the cool dad that pulls out the old records for the “Wow!  You are cool, dad!” moment.  This was not going to be the case, as James Murphy announced he was done.  LCD Soundsystem was getting out while the getting was good.  They were leaving the party before anyone threw up in the punch bowl or jumped out of an upstairs window.  But they were going out in style, man.  A farewell concert in April of 2011 at Madison Square Garden, which leads me to last night…

I liked the documentary.  I think it showed just how much LCD Soundsystem and its members meant to James Murphy.  It also made me wish I could’ve seen them play a house show back in 2004.  That would’ve been something to see.  I think the most insightful parts of the documentary were the clips of his conversation with journalist Chuck Klosterman.  Is it a stereotype to think all New York artists -be it musicians, directors, writers, painters, actors- are neurotic like Woody Allen?  Even after saying this break up of the band was the best thing for him personally(so he can do other things he likes…like make coffee or produce Arcade Fire) he still seemed worried that breaking up the band could’ve been his biggest failure.  And the scenes of him wandering around New York with his little dog the day after the show made me think this is one lonely guy.  I know it’s all in the editing, but still.  Whether he’s in a band or not, James Murphy will always be the quintessential fussy New York artist.

I think he could pretty much do whatever he wants at this point;  direct, write, act(sorta), produce.  But way deep down, I’m hoping that someday he’ll realize he’s still got some albums left in him.  I hope he decides to don the LCD Soundsystem band name one more time and write that middle age dance punk masterpiece.  Though, he’s going to have to hurry up.  If he waits any longer it’s going to be an AARP masterpiece.

James Murphy, you can play at my house anytime you want.  I’ll get some coffee brewing.

james drinking coffee