2017’s music scene has been full of indie darlings like Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene reconciling their trademark youthful passion with the fact that they’re nearing 40 years old, with children and mortgages. How do you stay edgy without sounding crotchety? Luckily, LCD Soundsystem has never had that problem, and “american dream” is no exception.
From their very first album, frontman James Murphy was already lamenting “losing my edge to better looking people with better ideas and more talent.” They were always a step back from action, making sometimes snarky and ironic (but always heartfelt) peanut gallery commentary.
In the seven years since their last album, they have broken up and been reborn. Now, back from the dead, they finally seem like the elder statesmen they’ve always acted as. Murphy’s beard is completely gray; what does this mean for the band?
In “american dream,” it means more of the same. That is, impeccably produced disco-punk fusion, a combination of facetious and sentimental lyricism (sometimes all at once), and continued use of “yr” instead of “your” in song titles. Like its two immediate predecessors, “This is Happening” and “Sound of Silver,” it is obvious that “american dream” works sonically within the first few minutes, but its lyrical strength and emotional resonance only start to hit towards the middle of the album, and fully blossom in the final third. And that’s what makes an LCD Soundsystem album so effective. You experience a wide range of feelings in quick succession, from the urge to dance to an overwhelming cynicism, but you always leave with a sentimentalism which manages to avoid being saccharine.
Still, it would be unfair to label “american dream” merely another good LCD album or perhaps a worthy edition to any Brooklyn hipster’s vinyl collection. Maybe it’s just the baggage that comes with a beloved band disbanding, reforming, then releasing their comeback album a year after it was supposed to come out, but it truly feels like “american dream” is a step forward for the band as much as it is evidence of their sustained excellence.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, LCD Soundsystem has always been consciously unoriginal, ripped straight out of the post-punk work of the late ’70s and early ’80s, and that is as obvious now as ever. Cover up the album art and “other voices” suddenly becomes a forgotten track off of Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light,” the magnificent “change yr mind” sounds like a version of David Bowie’s “Repetition” that’s been remixed from the therapist’s office to the dance floor and “oh baby” and “i used to” blatantly evoke New Order and Joy Division.
What differentiates this album from past efforts, however, is that as much as they’re calling upon the work of past artists, they’re now referring back to their earlier work too. When the album’s third single, “tonite,” was released, it was exciting not because it takes notes from Kraftwerk and Daft Punk, but because it sounds like the LCD Soundsystem we’ve come to know and love. The highlight of “other voices” is a surprise verse from Nancy Whang, which is awesome above all for those of us who’ve followed the band and think she’s been too long relegated to back-up vocals and chorus mantras. That moment now enters the LCD cannon, and further develops the identity of the band itself, beyond that of a glorified cover artist.
This is the progress that elevates “american dream.” “how do you sleep?” plays out like a dramatized, slowed-down “Dance Yrself Clean” (the opener of “This is Happening”) complete with aggressive synth-bass interjection midway through. “emotional haircut” strives for a more malicious, less dancey punk atmosphere we haven’t seen since the band’s self-titled debut on songs like “Give it Up.” These too are things which push LCD from being a talented, smart band with a lot of good music, to artists with a true career arc, something very few are able to achieve.
So, I suppose that answers the question: If you’re already old, nostalgic and grumpy, how do you age gracefully in indie music? A little bit of stagnation, and a little bit of subtle development. A gradual expansion of your list of influences, including the addition of your former self. It seems like as much as they’ve looked to legends like Bowie, Eno, and The Clash for musical inspiration, they’re now taking a page from their playbooks regarding artistic growth and career development. So the next time some cynical New York frontman claims “I’m losing my edge” to those who know every good group from 2002 to 2018, LCD Soundsystem and their funky, bleak American dream will be there, somewhere very close to the top.
"american dream" is LCD Soundsystem's fourth studio album. It was released on September 1st, 2017.