Tuesday, January 8, 2008

LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver

LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver
by Ian Mathers

We have a weird love-hate relationship with our artists' maturation processes. In James Murphy’s case, “we” indicates...I don't know anymore, man. The “blogosphere”? Pitchfork? The Stylus diaspora? If you're reading this, you probably have some inkling of who “we” are, because you're one of “us.” Murphy gets it coming and going; his debut was too immature for some of us, and now I'm going to tell you Sound of Silver is too staid. There's a joie de vivre coursing through LCD Soundsystem that no longer exists on Sound of Silver—not even the good tracks. Even the Eno and Lennon rips, yes; if you had a problem with “Great Release” for sounding like an outtake from Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), you should probably just stop listening to music altogether before you run into more examples of shameless aping and hurt yourself.

Murphy probably believed his own press. LCD's eponymous debut, still the best thing Murphy’s done, won positive but curiously lukewarm reviews. It’s now apparent that one of the big contentions was that nothing on that LP seized the hipster zeitgeist—sorry, Made A Statement, like “Losing My Edge.” Maybe it didn't, but Sound of Silver is packed full with more attempted “statements,” from “All My Friends” (not actually a bad song, but blown way out of proportion by pretty much every writer out there) to the bad show-tune finale of “New York I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down,” they all fall flat to some degree.

In fact, the only track that really attains a significant portion of the affect that Murphy seems to intend and critics seem dead set on assigning him is the one that's been shoved aside in favor of “All My Friends” (Internet critic consensus pick for track of the year! Including Stylus! Man, sometimes we just all get it wrong). “Someone Great” has both the best sonic texture of the album—a fuzzy, sliding pulse arcing through it that sounds like the world's best headache—and lyrics that actually approach the mighty “Paint It, Black” for their devastated ambiguity. Except that, it being 2007, Murphy substitutes puzzled postmodernism for Mick's blank anguish and somehow makes it work. “Someone Great” is as much about how we're weirded out by grief as it is actually is about grief.

Yes, “All My Friends,” is a reasonably good song. I'm even willing to acknowledge a kind of minor greatness to it. But it's not about you. I don't mean that in the trivial sense that James Murphy wrote it and you didn't; go read the lyrics again. It's another song about the perils of losing your life to a career in music, which is something most of the people busily clutching the song to their hearts have no idea about and never will. Most accounts of “All My Friends” speaking to anyone sounded more aspirational more than anything else. If you’re James Murphy or at a similar level of fame, sure it’s as good as the song you've read about (which is why quasi-famous John Cale's version is so fucking great). I’m not saying a song can’t have emotional reach beyond its original scope, but the gap between what is competent and effectively moving and some sort of beatific vision that deeply touches us all and makes a statement about our lives is gaping enough that, at best, healthy portions of wishful thinking clouded the reception of “All My Friends.” At worst, it is willful ignorance.

That's the thing: For those two tracks, Murphy has made a personal, effective album that maintains his ridiculous success streak of marrying his schlubby, semi-protean vocals to well-refined beatscapes that are both more and less interesting than they first seem. The rest of the album, though, is a complete write-off. “North American Scum” is even more eye-rollingly stupid than I feared it would be, from the combination of title and early press reports overwhelmingly approving its “political” stance, the same kind of risible bullshit* that permeates, say, Sleater-Kinney's “Entertain.” Acknowledging in the song that you're talking bullshit doesn't excuse said bullshit, dude. “Time to Get Away” and “Us V. Them” bring an unpleasantly condescending air to Murphy's repertoire, giving off a whiff of unearned condemnation. I can't really remember “Get Innocuous!!” or “Watch the Tapes,” which isn't promising given how many times I listened to this album hoping it would coalesce.

For the last two tracks, Murphy really fails to end on a high note like the debut did. Unless you really hate Brian Eno, “Great Release” was a pretty beatific way to send off LCD Soundsystem. Here, “Sound of Silver” itself is only kind of tolerable, in a “nice beat, shame those endlessly repeated lyrics aren't nearly as interesting as you think they are” kind of way. But “New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down” is everything the title promises (and more!)—the kind of bullshit that has Murphy working so far out of his emotional, sonic, and vocal range that it's painful to hear. But it sure does sound Significant, and that's obviously important to the man. Or at least what gets you kudos these days. And that, sadly, is what might be causing him to actually lose his edge.

*maybe it's easier to see this from Canada.

Ian Mathers has written for Stylus Magazine, Village Voice and the world's biggest Philip K. Dick fan site. He is currently finishing his Master's degree in Philosophy at the University of Guelph and wishes he had more time to write about music.



Blogger John C. said...

I'm going to be lazy and just link to Mike Barthel's piece on "North American Scum" as a retort to your "eye-rollingly stupid" line, Ian:


January 11, 2008 at 3:51 PM  
Blogger Alfred Soto said...

"Time to Get Away" is the only song that's eye-rollingly stupid to these ears, and deliberately so (which means I like it, maybe). I get what you're saying about JM's taking the easy way out with referents and jokes, but now he's got a whole album of songs to match his arranging and mixing. "All My Friends" doesn't seem to be about music either -- it's about aging: how your body can't catch up to your imagination, your capacity to enjoy the homelier pleasures of friends, drugs, and good times. And the music dovetails perfectly with the lyrics: one sustained chord (maybe two), on which intruments and pathos pile up.

January 11, 2008 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Ian said...

I like Mike, and I like that essay. But it doesn't describe anything I recognize in the lyrics or sound of "North American Scum." It's like Nick writing about Battles - I wish the music was actually like that.

January 12, 2008 at 1:30 AM  
Blogger Nick said...

The music is like that to the people that hear it that way, though; while I can appreciate this as a well-written piece that makes a lot of very salient points, I don't recognise it as being about the copy of Sound Of Silver that I own and love. Such is subjectivity, I guess.

January 15, 2008 at 2:05 AM  
Blogger Ben said...

The lyrics for 'Sound Of Silver' the song are rubbish, and 'Someone Great' and 'All My Friends' are head and shoulders above everything else on the album - but they're enough to make it one of my favourites of last year.

Can appreciate the quality of your piece, Ian (and it makes me understand your perspective on my short blog review), but I can't agree...

January 15, 2008 at 12:11 PM  
Blogger kiss out the jams said...

"'Someone Great' and 'All My Friends' are head and shoulders above everything else on the album - but they're enough to make it one of my favourites of last year."

Ben, you just kind of proved his point. No matter how great two songs may be, the remaining seven should be great enoughs on their own merits to make it a great album. If that's not the case for you, you're essentially admitting to talking about only two great songs, not a great album.

January 15, 2008 at 12:22 PM  
Blogger kiss out the jams said...

"enoughs," Christ. Some editor I am.

January 15, 2008 at 12:23 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

It's not like the rest of the songs are shit though (not to me, anyway) (and in fact I love Get Innocuous and North American Scum and the title track, just not as much), and those two GREAT songs are SO GREAT that they drag it up from 'good' into..., oh, what the hell. Grading albums, be it with numbers, letters, or words, is stupid anyway. I love it.

January 18, 2008 at 3:45 PM  
Anonymous hutlock said...


January 25, 2008 at 2:23 PM  

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