Front cover of ‘LCD Soundsystem’
Although I was exposed to a vast galaxy of music at university, two bands dominated the soundtrack to my three years as an undergrad: Wakefield’s The Cribs and New York’s LCD Soundsystem. Musically speaking, they’re two very different groups, but both seemed to epitomise the spirit of invention that characterises all truly great alternative music and, crucially, both released at least two records while I was there. This meant I got the opportunity to see both groups on at least two occasions.
For LCD Soundsystem, and its mastermind James Murphy (also head of DFA Records, the coolest label of the day), the story started a number of years before the release of its self-titled debut. During 2002, beginning with the brilliant self-pitying hipster tale ‘Losing My Edge’, a series of peerless 12″ and double-A-sided singles appeared as if by magic, their reputation growing by word of mouth. Here was a magical hybridisation of post-punk and disco, a perfect marriage of guitar and drum machine, fronted by a “fat guy in a T-shirt doing all the singing”, to quote their hit song ‘Movement’. They were perfectly formed and yet totally out of place in the early noughties.
The inclusion of these early singles as a second disc to LCD Soundsystem was Murphy’s first stroke of genius, adding value for those who were curious but not yet converted. Not only did it give the album a half-artistic statement half-greatest hits feel, it made the group feel accessible to newcomers, not some ultra-new hipster concern. Weren’t around for the very beginning? No matter, you could catch right up. But the most satisfying aspect is the sense of joy with which the material is approached. Murphy’s fanboy influences – Can, Suicide, Eno, The Fall, Talking Heads – were processed into something uncanny, new and yet utterly familiar, like a newly discovered compound made with common elements. Never before had dance music sounded so human. The twin attack of drums plus drum machines, extensive use of cowbells and perfectly judged hi-hats, often made it difficult to discern which elements were man-made and which were mechanical. That was down not only to Murphy but also drummer and synth operator Pat Mahoney, in many ways the band’s rhythmical engine room.
That musical versatility made for a varied and entertaining collection. The songs could be sharp and angular, like on the delirious repetition of opener ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ or the brutal, metronomic assault of lead single ‘Movement’. Alternately, LCD could pump out a bassline like liquid ecstasy, such as the rubbery funk of ‘Too Much Love’ and ‘Tribulations’ that aren’t quite entirely unlike guitar music. The pulsating 8-minute ‘On Repeat’ pulls the same trick as early single ‘Yeah’ but with elements of post-punk dropped in the mix – the guitar scratches at the song’s climax could have come from PiL or Gang Of Four. ‘Disco Infiltrator’ is a joyous funky Kraftwerk jam with a nagging vocal hook that won’t leave your head for days.
Elsewhere, LCD do quite unexpected things with structure and form, to the extent that you wonder that they’re not some sort of indie-dance variety band. ‘Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up’ is a laid-back Beatles / Floyd pastiche, where Murphy actually goes as far as to sing. The ambient pop of disc one closer ‘Great Release’ is totally magnificent, a classic example of Murphy’s ability to stretch himself artistically, turning his hand to an unfamiliar genre and succeeding. The early singles on the second disc make for a delicious bonus – we’re treated to two versions of ‘Yeah’, the Mark E. Smith-channelling ‘Beat Connection’ and the lithe funk of ‘Yr City’s A Sucker’ in addition to ‘Losing My Edge’.
It wasn’t a perfect album by any means. Often, it played like the ‘nine moods of LCD Soundsystem’ rather than as a musically coherent whole, but the individual moments had such character and clarity of vision that it more than made up for the occasional naivety of those ideas. The tricky ‘Thrills’ is too much like a sketch of a song, and the underlying flimsiness of a track like ‘Movement’, for example, sounds like its component parts are stuck together by sellotape by comparison to more sophisticated later works, but its joyous sense of abandon is enough to carry it even ten years later. LCD Soundsystem was brilliant because of what it represented, the shining future to which it pointed, rather than because of what it actually was necessarily.
They would go on to make their masterpiece with their next outing, 2007’s flawless Sound Of Silver, an indie-dance crossover every bit as brilliant as more commonly cited records like Screamadelica. A deal with Nike followed the next year, producing the flawed but ambitious 45:33. A couple of EPs and stand-alone singles later, Murphy announced that their third album This Is Happening would be their last. They bowed out with a massive and emotional farewell gig at Madison Square Garden in April 2011. The moment is immortalised in the movie and film ‘Shut Up And Play The Hits’. But LCD Soundsystem was the boisterous, occasionally stroppy but precociously talented younger sibling to those fine later albums, and an essential musical document.
Check out the entire album here!
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