This Is Happening
Have you ever seen a Liquid Crystal Display Soundsystem in a store?
Of course not. That’s because such a device doesn’t exist in the real world. In reality the name LCD Soundsystem is the unreal product of two very different concepts fused together into one being, a sort of chimera between sight and sound. Like all mythical beings and things that are sort of grounded in things we know, the image we have of an LCD Soundsystem lives somewhere on the fringe of our imagination, operating in the seemingly gray area between reality and fiction.
That’s exactly where the work of this band resides: on the edge of producer and band leader James Murphy’s mind. When Murphy first felt inspired to start LCD Soundsystem in 2002, he envisioned playing whatever music popped up in his head, whether it made any sense to anyone else or not. A self-portrait of the band and its style of music, according to Murphy:
“disco. bored people. a poorly executed fist-fight. sandwiches without too much meat and stuff on them. records that you used to hate but are kind of cool now that you heard them again years later at your friend's house. hipster nonsense. midrange, and not so much bass-and-treble. an engine that needs the timing looked at and is running at capacity. a band.”
This kind of eclectic, hodge-podge, exploring deep space past Pluto-the-no-longer-planet music is exactly what you can expect to find in LCD Soundsystem’s newest album This Is Happening. Released on May 17, it is a full demonstration of Murphy’s willingness to do anything he wants with his music.
This Is Happening rises from Murphy’s mind like a city without its L’Enfant to organize the intersection of every street and the height of every building. Whereas in some communities all the houses look exactly the same, listeners will find that urban sprawl that comprises the 9 tracks on this album exhibit an incredible range of styles, emotions, and messages, all rushing towards us on I-95 en route directly from Murphy’s soul. In “All I Want”, we feel his soft-edged but heartfelt passion; in “Drunk Girls”, we find a playful and light attitude towards frivolity; in “Somebody’s Calling Me”, we face a more reserved, subdued, and despairing tone. “Dance Yrself Clean,” is in itself akin to two songs -- for exactly 3 minutes and 5 seconds it is surprisingly held back and quiet, until which point a unstoppable power surge of electronic bass kicks in almost entirely unexpectedly. If it weren’t for the continuity of Murphy’s lyrics unifying both halves, listeners might be caught checking to see if it was even the same track, making it a veritable two-faced creature.
Of course, the pure power of Murphy’s wild range of sounds and styles doesn’t imply that his thoughts never strikes out. LCD Soundsystem diehards may find themselves disappointed with some of Murhpy’s forays into different musical techniques. The heavy and robotic feel of “Somebody’s Calling Me” and “One Touch” seem a world away from the band who in the past brought us the optimistic and vivacious “Daft Punk is Playing at My House”. Purists might label “Home” as an attempted but lesser follow-up to “All My Friends.” In addition, Murphy’s freewhelin’ spirit at times gets a little ahead of itself – “Pow Pow” comes off as not just disorganized, but in a bad way, as it is more difficult to identify with what he is trying to accomplish here than in songs like “All My Friends,” which one musician has called the “Baba O’Reilly of our generation.”
But to criticize Murphy too much for straying from what people might think sounds like LCD Soundsystem would be to miss the point entirely. This band’s success and talent has been defined by its ability to move beyond its own comfort zone to see what’s out there, and the overall result has been great new music. After all, you may not find a hit on this album, but they don’t really do hits.
-- Brian Sergi