A slow-burning, heart-wrenching nostalgic wash of vintage synth sounds and affecting, emotional vocals leads to a worthy and exciting return from James Murphy and co.
A few short years ago, most music listeners had resigned themselves to the fact we were probably not going to hear anything from LCD Soundsystem again. Granted, James Murphy – the band’s chief architect/primary songwriter/sole permanent member – was still making music, mainly through little experiments like noodling around with making pleasing sounds for the New York subway system. But none of these little experiments (or his often-wonderful remixes or his work on DFA, his record label) could ever really match what his band did best and made so affecting, inventive, and witty, or match why they were (and are) considered one of the best bands of this century so far. Across three studio albums, three EPs, and numerous non-album singles and remixes, Murphy had charted a map of literate, heart-tugging electronica that fused dance, rock, synthpop, punk, and more and made them one the 21st century’s most beloved and influential acts, bowing out at their prime in 2011 with a euphoric final concert in the band’s hometown of New York.
And then they came back.
Breaking their silence initially with 2015’s heart-breaking single ‘Christmas Will Break Your Heart,’ the band then combined successful live gigs with writing and recording their hotly anticipated fourth album. ‘american dream’ (along with its split single ‘call the police’) is their first official release since then and the first hint towards the new album, coming inevitably with the expectations and hopes often bundled together with an act of this stature. Wonderfully, brilliantly, it lives up to every expectation.
Opening to the mechanical pop of a wonderfully tinny old drum machine, the track soon breaks into a huge wash of delay-enriched analogue synths and keyboards, its twisting minor-key chord progressions meshing wonderfully against a sombre yet oddly bouncy, Twin Peaks-like synth bassline. As the song dials back down to the bass, Murphy’s voice enters with gorgeously literate verses, detailing a bittersweet morning in the life of an ageing hipster – a character familiar in the band’s oeuvre ever since 2002’s debut single ‘Losing My Edge’ – who realises “In the morning everything’s clearer / When the sunlight exposes your age.” In fact, Murphy’s witty yet poetic lyricism shines throughout the track; even hilariously cynical lines (“You just suck at self-preservation”) are so leavened with pathos that they remain genuinely affecting. Every downbeat, minimalist verse is matched with choruses that explode back into the cushioning yet bittersweet synths and Murphy’s fragile and emotional refrains that, while perhaps expected, still elate as an emotional release every time. In fact, his voice remains a selling point throughout – his light, untrained, almost delicate tenor remains a touchingly human moment amidst all the artificial surrounds. In building to its end, Murphy erupts in emotion, wailing the title against twinkling layers of catchy, retro-sounding backing vocals and harmonies that drop off back down to the isolating pop of the drum machine.
The song’s 6:16 song length is hardly noticeable; indeed, its ’80s slow dance feel sucks you in from the get-go and hardly holds up. Simultaneously balancing between lights-in-the-air euphoria and vulnerable, stark emotion as Murphy’s exploration of regret, age and missed opportunities transcends the experiences of a fortysomething musician to become something far more universal. Everything from its richly nostalgic sound to its slow-burn melodies, remains affecting, inviting, and insistently lovely; it remains everything LCD Soundsystem does best. As risky as reunions can sometimes be, Murphy and LCD Soundsystem continue to succeed on every level and continue to make their listeners thankful that the project’s end back in 2011 was merely temporary.
Welcome back, James. We’ve missed you.
‘american dream’ is out now via Columbia