Graded on a Curve:
LCD Soundsystem,
Sound of Silver

LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver—the only electronica LP you need ever own! You can forget about all the rest of them—they blow! It’s like the Beatles, and all those bozos buying all their LPs when the only one that conceivably matters is The White Album. The same goes for 2007’s Sound of Silver, so get rid of all your other dance-punk LPs. Just toss them in the trash; they’re nothing but rubbish cluttering your bedroom!

Okay, so everything I’ve just written is wrong-headed and absurd. Sue me! Because I mean every word of it. Sound of Silver gets my vote for best electronica LP ever, and I would hold that opinion even if it was nothing but 43 minutes of “North American Scum.” Why, just the other night I was in a car with “North American Scum” playing and I couldn’t help myself; I lowered my window and screamed at the crowds thronging 14th Street here in DC, “I need ecstasy now! Who has ecstasy? I want some fucking ecstasy right this instant!”

And I’ve never even done ecstasy! LCD Soundsystem just makes me want ecstasy. Anyway, LCD Soundsystem was, as everybody knows, the brain-child of New York City’s James Murphy, who spent some time in bands, then some time as a producer, before finally striking out in the early 2000s with his own take on dance punk. More or less a one-man band, Murphy turned down a paying gig to write for Seinfeld to produce mesmerizing and hard-edged dance tracks, starting with 2002’s underground hit “Losing My Edge.” When he wasn’t doing remixes or a long promotional piece for Nike he was writing irresistible dance tunes with great and frequently funny lyrics about life on the dance floor.

Why is LCD Soundsystem so great? It’s the beats, fool! And Murphy’s uncanny knack for finding subtle ways to dress them up. He also has the perfect voice for his material—cool as Nico on some cuts, and frenetic on others. Why, on Sound of Silver’s long opening track “Get Innocuous” he even manages to sound like The Talking Heads, mixed with some English band I can’t recognize. A funky groove that features the backing vocals of Nancy Whang, the snaky “Get Innocuous” throbs and percolates, thanks to some feisty percussion and who knows what else. Meanwhile, “Time to Get Away” opens with a solid rock beat, and features Murphy employing a Prince-like falsetto to sing, “It’s time to get away from you.” Then a counter-rhythm kicks in, and prods you onto the dance floor, while Murphy sings, “What what what what?” and “I’m dying to get away from you” while the polyrhythms pile on, until you’re freaking and Murphy is barking out his final lines one word at a time, for emphasis, man, emphasis.

“North American Scum” gets my “Best Song I Completely Missed in 2007 Award,” thanks largely to its propulsive groove and Murphy’s great vocals, which go from conversational to falsetto at the drop of a tab of e. But it’s the great choruses that really make this one, what with Murphy’s falsetto and some rad backing vocalists and that great chukka-chukka-chukka. A pro-American song I can actually get down with, it concedes that Spain and Berlin have cooler dance scenes, but Murphy is defiant, singing, “And I know you wouldn’t touch us with a ten-foot pole/Cuz we’re North American scum.” And he wonders, “So where’s the love/Where’s the love/Where’s the love/Where’s the love/Where’s the love tonight?” Answer, nowhere, and the kids are uptight about it. But that doesn’t stop Murphy, who throws everything he can, including mimes, into this club masterpiece.

“Someone Great” opens on a throbbing note before some synth squiggles and a New Wave beat introduce themselves. It’s one cool groove, but I wish Murphy had come in earlier—he waits for some blips to show up before he jumps into the mix, accompanied by glockenspiel. But it has its advantages, like when he repeats, “It keeps coming” before throwing in a “Before it stops.” He then falls into repeating, “When someone great is gone” before concluding, “We’re safe/For the moment.” Bottom line: it’s cool, too cool perhaps, but it works despite the fact that it has “Made in England” stamped all over it.

Speaking of England, “All My Friends” is a stone cold classic, opening on a synth run that kinda reminds me, and probably no one else in the entire universe, of The Who’s intro to “Baba O’Riley.” But I don’t care if nobody else hears it, because the tune explodes, after a few lashes of a synthesized whip, into a totally infectious Kraut rock groove that features Murphy on top, singing, “That’s how it starts/We go back to your house/You check the charts/And start to figure it out.” Meanwhile the mix gets thicker and thicker, and they set their “controls for the heart of the sun.” Murphy totally captures the vicissitudes of NYC’s “hipper than thou” nite life when he sings, “Though when we’re running out of the drugs/And the conversation’s winding away/I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision/ For another five years of life.” And repeats, “Where are your friends tonight?” as the momentum builds and builds and that groove worms its way into your brain and wiggles into your synapses, where it will remain until the time comes when you, yes you party animal, wonder where your friends are and your own stupid decisions kill you.

“Us. V Them” opens with a heavy robotic groove, then Murphy and Whang come in followed by some truly funky percussion. “The time has come/The time has come/The time has come/Today,” they sing, Murphy growing more frenetic before going, “Shhhh.” Then there’s a breakdown that’s cool as shit, after which Murphy goes David Byrne for a verse or two. Meanwhile that funky groove continues on its inexorable journey to the end of the night, the nightcrawler par excellence Murphy singing, “I’ll block out the sun/Over me, over me/And spoil/Spoil the fun.” And if this isn’t one of the most happening songs you’ve ever heard, its close—which features Murphy and Company repeating, “Us and them/Over and over again” ad infinitum—will seal the deal, as will the drum that comes in at the end, so groovy you won’t believe your ears. “Watch the Tapes” also has a vague Krautrock feel, and sets some bummer lyrics to a groove propelled by a big bass and some great percussion. Murphy delivers a great “Ahaahooo” on the choruses, the mix gets thicker, and then Murphy closes it down after a rough chorus that goes, “Read all the pamphlets/And watch the tapes.” But not before he drops the lines, “We all get a little drunk/And act like apes/Shout!!”

“Sound of Silver” is my least favorite track on the LP, and features a minimalist backdrop against which Murphy sings in a flat voice about how “Sounds of silver make you want to/Feel like a teenager,” but then you think about it again and say no thanks. Because nobody really wants to go back there, not really. Meanwhile the song proceeds with rudimentary percussion and lots of blips, squiggles, claps, and whatnot. A bass finally kicks in, but the song still just sort of sits there, until Murphy finally lays the sound effects on thick and yeah, you think, why didn’t he do this in the first place? He wanted to build tension, is the obvious answer, but he waited too long, and the song ends shortly after it finally gets funky.

LP closer “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” is a straight up rock tune, slow and highlighting a piano over which Murphy sings a kind of farewell to a town that is “freaking” him out with its so-called improvements, such as the elimination of down-scale neighborhood bars where he can get drunk. “Take me off your mailing list,” he sings, before going back and forth on whether he’s right or wrong about New York. Then a big guitar comes in to deliver a great solo over some crashing drums before the song dies out only to makes a surprise return, with the piano once again front and center and that guitar playing cool Ziggy Stardust riffs. And if you’re like me you’ll feel sad when said tune finally slides close its metal grate, like the one in front of a ghostly Times Square porn theater, for good.

LCD Soundsystem “broke up” in 2011, and Murphy has yet to make new music, preferring to throw himself into a plethora of projects that include developing his own espresso. The man’s interests are wide-ranging, to say the least—he put time into changing the New York subway’s turnstile beeps, a project that went nowhere—and I for one can only hope he returns to putting out albums. His own albums. Because he’s brilliant. I’m listening to “North American Scum” as I write this, and all I can say is, “Who’s got the ecstasy? I want some fucking ecstasy, now!”

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A

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