call the police / american dream, by LCD Soundsystem

99-callthepolice

Released May 5, 2017

14 min

So this is why LCD Soundsystem came back.

I wondered what their plan was when James Murphy first announced – and pre-emptively apologized for – the band’s return early last year. It always seemed to me like Murphy put the band to rest far earlier than he may have needed to, given that the band had just released its best album in 2010, and were at perhaps the peak of their popularity. Maybe that scared him, and he needed to go away for a while and figure out what he really wanted to do with the rest of his life. This doesn’t have any basis in facts or anything like that – I don’t think he’s really talked about why LCD Soundsystem stopped existing for five years.

But they’re back, with a Christmas single being the herald of a new era of the band, released on December 24, 2015, before anyone knew (for sure, anyway) that the band was working on a full return to activity. LCD Soundsystem spent 2016 on the festival circuit, celebrating their return while quietly working on a new record. A band as revered as LCD certainly doesn’t need to record an album to justify their existence, but, as I mentioned earlier, it always felt like James Murphy had far more to give to us than he did during the band’s first run, and now we’re finally seeing that, as two actual singles expected to be from the new album surfaced, in the double A-side of “call the police” and “american dream.”

The dichotomy is interesting, almost like a cohesive primer on the band. “call the police” is a fast-driving rocker, bright and upbeat musically, but with an undercurrent of melancholy throughout the lyrics as Murphy struggles to be heard above the cacophony of instrumentation below him. It reminds me a lot of “All My Friends,” one of LCD Soundsystem’s best songs in their catalogue, and absolutely my favorite. They both barrel forward on instrumentation that threatens to sweep Murphy away before he can say his piece, and he finally gets it all out by shouting above the noise. It’s a very Sound of Silver-era song, I think, and it’s the side of LCD Soundsystem that I’ve always loved the most, even if I think This is Happening is a better album.

By contrast, “american dream” is a synth-driven slow dance, with the signature melody being a haunting, dripping rhythm that feels like you’re being surrounded. The song has a clear narrative, following the protagonist (whose actions are being described by Murphy throughout the song) and describing their feelings of inadequacy as they trudge through their life, those feelings infecting everything they do, describing the experience as a real American dream. It could easily be an autobiographical song, and Murphy is certainly no stranger to writing songs of that nature, but it also feels like a very modern analysis of life in 2017, particularly in the sort of big city where Murphy made his name and his home. He could have easily seen this story any number of times around him.

This is LCD Soundsystem distilled down to its essence – soaring punk/rock, heavy doses of electronica, either standalone or mixed in, and diagnoses of what it’s like to be human today. LCD Soundsystem has never been a band of big ideas and navel-gazing – James Murphy is far more concerned with what he can see in front of him, and sharing those feelings with whoever’s willing to listen. And there are many, many people willing to listen, hanging on every word, anxiously awaiting the day when, for the first time in seven years, they can wake up to the joy of a new LCD Soundsystem album.

Advertisements

The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem Live at Madison Square Garden, by LCD Soundsystem

92-thelonggoodbye

Released April 19, 2014

3 hrs, 8 min

On April 2, 2011, LCD Soundsystem played its final show at Madison Square Garden.  Nearly five years later, on January 4, they rose again.

Many, many bands have broken up, only to reunite in some manner or another further up the road.  Sometimes, the breakup is a hiatus that was always meant to end.  Sometimes, the band members just can’t fucking handle each other any more, and find out later on that they can do it if they try.  Sometimes a band calls it quits, makes a big deal of it, and then decides that the breakup didn’t need to be so final after all.

LCD Soundsystem broke up for reasons mostly unknown to the public.  Perhaps James Murphy didn’t even really know what he was doing when he announced the Garden show as the last one.  The band played with urgency and fervor, looking like they could keep going for another decade by the end of it.  It was a puzzling conclusion without much in the way of explanation, even with the superb documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits and the long James Murphy interview interspersed throughout it in 2012.  Even burnout couldn’t really explain it – there are scenes in that documentary where Murphy is clearly distraught at the decision he’s made, and it makes one wonder what the motivation really was in the end.

I’ve got thoughts about that, and about the upcoming reunion at Coachella and beyond.  But first, the album.

The Long Goodbye is the audio document of that final show, providing an easier way than Shut Up and Play the Hits to digest the best performance of the band’s history.  At three hours and eight minutes, the album contains nearly every moment from the live show, cutting out only the short breaks and visual intermissions that wouldn’t translate to the audio product, creating a gorgeous document of the show that nicely compliments the video in Shut Up.  All of the hits are here – iconic tracks like “Dance Yrself Clean” to open the show, “Drunk Girls” right after, “All My Friends” early on, a set of classic singles (“Tribulations,” “Yeah,” “Losing My Edge”) towards the end, and, of course, the beautiful closer “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down.”  But there’s also the deep cuts – “Bye Bye Bayou,” “You Wanted a Hit,” and “45:33” in its miraculous entirety (with part three substituted for “Sound of Silver” – part three shows up much later as its ‘final form’ in “Someone Great”).

All throughout, one gets the feeling that this band is having the time of their lives, and they’re still somehow in the prime of their career, ten years on.  The men’s and women’s choruses provide a great wrinkle to many of the songs, “Dance Yrself Clean” and “45:33” in particular, and especially the transcendent, powerful group vocals throughout “Home” towards the end of the show.  The band pulled out all the stops with the visual and sonic aspects of the show, to the point where the four shows at Terminal 5 before Madison Square Garden ended up being trial runs for this show, nearly identical to the final product.  And what a final product it ended up being – three hours – four on video – 28 songs, and a night no one that was there will ever forget.

When it was all said and done, everyone was crying.  The crowd, the band, the crew, everyone in the venue understood the magnitude of what the show meant.  That was it.  No more.  Goodbye forever.

Except…

James Murphy posted a blog entry today about the reunion and what it meant to him.  He explained his reasoning – the music never stopped flowing, and it was a question of releasing it, with LCD, as LCD, or releasing it, with LCD, as Not LCD, or releasing it as himself like a pretentious fuck.  Or not release anything.  Of course, he chose to call it what it was, and that meant bringing back a band that hadn’t done anything in four years, after explicitly putting said band in the ground in extravagant fashion.  Most people were obviously thrilled – who would deny wanting new LCD Soundsystem if they’re a fan? – but a section of those fans were disappointed that the last show was no longer the last show, that all of the pomp and circumstance had gone to waste, so to speak.  And that’s an interesting proposal, I think.  It’s a bad proposal, but it’s interesting.

Like I said at the start, bands break up and get back together for a litany of reasons, and those reasons aren’t always noble, or a good idea.  At the Drive-In broke up because the members hated each other by the end of it, and they reunited in 2012 for a set of festival shows (and they’ll do it again in 2016, which is another bad idea).  They reunited for one reason – well, millions of reasons, probably.  Money.  Money is what I’m getting at.

Omar Rodríguez-López said something along those lines once their run of shows was over, indicating that he didn’t have much of a connection to their music any more.  If he didn’t feel connected to it – and we’re talking about a bunch of really, really pretentious dudes here – then why would you go back and stir up a storm of bullshit stemming from the fact that the reunions shows were entirely underwhelming?  Money, that’s why.  Festivals in particular pay out the ass to get bands that have broken up, because that’s an instant promotional win there.  “THIS BAND IS BACK AND YOU CAN ONLY SEE THEM AT COACHELLA!  SEVEN HUNDRED DOLLARS PLEASE!”  After all, no one goes to Coachella to see Diggy the One-Armed DJ playing right next to the Port-o-Potty for twenty minutes – they go to see the big names and get high, and if they tell you otherwise, they’re lying.

Again, as I said, reunions aren’t always bad ideas done for bad reasons.  Pink Floyd performed a single show, eleven years after their final tour, and 24 years after Roger Waters’s acrimonious departure, and it was a wonderful moment for a noble enough cause.  Nine Inch Nails played what was ostensibly their “final” show in 2009, though there wasn’t much of a consensus on how serious Trent Reznor was about that – and, sure enough, after four years of interesting side-projects, Nine Inch Nails reunited for a set of fantastic tours through 2013 and 2014, the 2013 Tension tour in particular being almost universally acclaimed.  After unceremoniously dismissing the E Street Band in 1989, Bruce Springsteen brought them back together a decade later and kicked off seventeen years of universally acclaimed, legendary tours all across the world.  Plenty of bands and artists have come around for a second act that ended up being an extension of their career and history, rather than a victory lap.

So what about the band that says it’s done, only to come back a few years later?

As I mentioned above, there’s a section of fans that are disappointed that the end is no longer the end for LCD Soundsystem.  There are people that were at that last show – people that spent ludicrous amounts of time and money to be there, to be part of the experience, for whatever personal reasons they may have had.  They were there for the end, and they wanted it to be the end.  They wanted it to keep the same emotional impact and meaning that it had in 2011.  If you make a sequel, what does that make the original?  Does it matter that Rocky lost in the end if he won in the next movie?

For his part, Murphy understood and empathized with those fans.  He’s always been a humble man, not fond of the spotlight and celebrity, and his desire to make music and enjoy himself and the friends he’s made with LCD is the clear motivator for this reunion – Coachella’s just a tool for announcing it, not a cash grab.  “Allow me to re-introduce myself.”  Kingdom Come.

My stance is that if you think that this cheapens the Garden show and the original breakup, then that’s your business.  If you think the moment you had in 2011 at that show is tainted, tarnished, or gone, that’s your opinion, and that’s fine.  But it’s petty and selfish.  A person has the right to make what they want of another person’s art – their opinion of it is theirs, their interpretation is theirs, their feelings are theirs.  But a person’s art is their livelihood, and it chiefly belongs to them.  You can be mad about Heroes returning, but if Tim Kring had more to say, then he can say it, and fuck you if you try to tell him, right to his face, that he’s wronged you for doing what he wants with his art.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that LCD is James Murphy’s entire life, because it obviously isn’t – he didn’t form this band as a kid, and a decade isn’t such a long time in the grand scheme of a person’s life.  But for those ten years, I think it was his life, at least for some of it.  And he was clearly distraught and upset when he put it down in 2011.  So if he wants to bring it back, if he wants to “cheapen” the Garden show by putting another one on after that, and another, and another, that’s fine for you.  But don’t bring that to him and act like you’ve been personally wronged.  Because I guarantee – I guarantee – that as much as LCD might be your life, no one in the world loves this band more than James Murphy.  No one.

It remains to be seen where LCD Soundsystem lands.  They’ve already promised a studio album, which was the onus for a reunion in the first place, in their case.  Coachella will be nothing more than a re-introduction, unpausing the movie and getting back to business.  They could be Soundgarden or Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots or A Perfect Circle.  The second act could be bigger and better than the first, or it could be shit.

Either way, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

Bye Bye Bayou, by LCD Soundsystem

47-byebyebayou

Released November 7, 2009

7 min, 9 sec

Ugh.

You know what?  I don’t even want to bother.

It’s an LCD Soundsystem song but it’s actually an Alan Vega song.  There are some cool audio effects about two minutes in that coincide with the “black helicopters” line, and some vocal effects that LCD Soundsystem like to employ.  That’s it.  Also, this is the end of the “B” albums.

There’ll be a real post on the next album on the list later today.

A Bunch of Stuff, by LCD Soundsystem

44-abunchofstuff

Released September 18, 2007

50 min, 52 sec

Ugh.

So, one of the main frustrations with the format of iTunes, A to Z is that the alphabetical list will often not allow me the opportunity to properly establish how I feel about a given artist. Take Bruce Springsteen, for example – in my very first post on Springsteen, I had to shit on him for releasing a lazy piece of garbage for Record Store Day, as opposed to talking about how he is one of my favorite artists of all time. The same thing happened with LCD Soundsystem – I had to turn the post about “All My Friends” into a discussion on how I’m an obsessive piece of hipster trash and need to own everything a band has put out in some form or another.

My thoughts on LCD Soundsystem will not be coming around until at least LCD Soundsystem, and L is a long, long way away from B. So, instead, we’re here with A Bunch of Stuff, an album that I absolutely don’t fucking care about, and I’ve got to find a way to make an entire post that is, at least, tangentially related to it.

Fun writing prompt.

One of the things that infuriates me about LCD Soundsystem is their insistence on releasing extra music across too many worthless albums, often mixing up the track lists so that the same track will appear on three different releases alongside different tracks, so you’re stuck buying literally everything the band shits out if you want something complete.

A Bunch of Stuff is a digital-only EP that exists only in the U.S. market because LCD Soundsystem felt no need to release the single for “Someone Great,” which contains every track on this EP except for the Franz Ferdinand cover, in the U.S., instead opting to release it literally everywhere else. At least this release invalidates the “Someone Great” single because A Bunch of Stuff has the Franz Ferdinand cover as an exclusive.

Wait, what’s that? The Franz Ferdinand cover is already on the “All My Friends” single?

Who would have fucking guessed?

This is the kind of shit I’m talking about. What’s the fucking point of having all these worthless EPs clogging up your discography? LCD Soundsystem isn’t even on a major label – James Murphy, the band’s frontman, runs the fucking label they’re on. DFA operates in every major market in the world; LCD Soundsystem doesn’t have to bother with international label bullshit, but they still do the same garbage that major labels do. Unbelievable.

There’s even a release specifically titled Confuse the Marketplace, which is a 12” single featuring all of 45:33‘s b-sides, which are already available in the U.S. on the 45:33 CD. Why is this happening?

Not to mention the fact that A Bunch of Stuff is just a bunch of shitty remixes.

Maybe that’s an unfair assessment – LCD Soundsystem sits in a genre where remixes are a huge part of a band’s marketability, and having a thousand versions of one song is a great way to appeal to every club in the entire world. That’s the point of these remixes.

It doesn’t really save them from being boring, overly long remixes, but then again, these aren’t songs you sit down and listen to in order to review for a blog. You listen to them in the club when you’re dry-humping someone you’ve never met before. So, I guess, in that case, mission accomplished. 10/10, would grind on a stranger again.

I think I may just have a thing against remixes. Particularly in the rock genre, they feel like low-effort cash grabs, something a band slaps together because they want a stopgap album to stay in the public view, maybe in some sort of nice limited edition package to swindle more money out of their adoring fans. There are very few remix albums that I can say are consistently high-quality – likely countable on one hand.

A Bunch of Stuff is not on that list.

For me, the EP’s only true redeeming quality is the Franz Ferdinand cover of “All My Friends.” What happens when you take a fantastic song and get a good band to cover it? Shockingly, it turns into a great cover. Man, that’s a real head-scratcher. Maybe they should’ve done this instead of having five tracks all featuring the same shitty Moog drum sample under the studio versions of the songs.

Alright, I’m getting way too snippy. A Bunch of Stuff is woefully unessential, like most of LCD Soundsystem’s catalogue outside of their studio and live records, which is a huge shame, because this band is fantastic in every other aspect.

Too bad they broke up.

All My Friends, by LCD Soundsystem

06-allmyfriends

 

Track 3 only

Released May 28, 2007

3 min, 40 sec

Being a music completionist is hard.

What I’m talking about is attempting to acquire every piece of commercially released music made by a given artist. There are tons of obstacles when in the process of that, the most damning being the dreaded multi-format, multi-tracklist single. I hate those. Absolutely can’t stand them.

The worst is when there’s only one track you want from that single, but you can’t find it individually for some reason. So, you’re stuck buying a CD single that you don’t want, in order to have one track that you want and three tracks you’ve already got from another CD single, or a compilation, or something stupid like that.

iTunes has made this much easier, but it hasn’t completely solved things. You still get format-exclusive tracks, and when they’re on a medium like vinyl (or worse, cassette), what are you going to do? Rip them yourself? Good luck making that sound anything more than a bunch of static screaming.

LCD Soundsystem is one of the bands I tried to do this with, and as a result, I’ve ended up with seven or eight single-track album in my library, because these bastards insisted on some of the dumbest track splitting I’ve ever seen. The amount of random releases with only a few new tracks on them is obnoxious, as if James Murphy sat down and said to himself, “what will piss off my fans the most?”

Besides throwing in the towel on LCD Soundsystem in 2011, of course.

I don’t want to use this post to talk about LCD Soundsystem, however, because that doesn’t feel right. This is a post about the “All My Friends” single, of which I only have one track, exclusive to the iTunes version of the single, and it’s a Joy Division cover. This isn’t the time or place for me to talk about LCD Soundsystem, and trust me, I’ve got quite a lot to say about this band.

Probably a short post, then. Let’s say a few words about this track.

It’s good.

What, you want a few more? Fine.

Of the tracks that use more traditional instrumentation, LCD Soundsystem prefers to have a very “garage-y” sound to their instruments – they sound like they’re being fed through hand-me-down amps, recorded straight to tape, and then pressed with shoddy vinyl machines. The end result is quite a lo-fi sound, which does justice to the source material, considering it’s Joy Division.

I’m not big on Joy Division – not because of any inherent dislike, but just because I never felt compelled by their music. It happens.

Similarly, I’m not compelled by this track. I actually don’t think I’d ever listened to it prior to having to write this post, which says something about the obsessive nature of completionism when it comes to bands.

Mainly, the fact that it’s utterly stupid and a waste of time.