LCD Soundsystem: Art imitates Art
Call the Police & American Dream
LCD Soundsystem front-man James Murphy is, on his own admission, an imitator, not an originator. "All I Want” sounds very similar to “Heroes”, “Watch The Tapes” sounds very similar to The Fall’s “Totally Wired”, and “Dance Yrself Clean” is The Pool’s “Jamaica Running” with an emotional core and better production. He has, since “Losing My Edge” introduced the world to his record collection with a beat nabbed from Killing Joke’s “Change” and a further list of artists I keep coming back to for recommendations, crafted a catalogue of songs which are, mostly, unabashedly derivative of other artists, yet aren’t hindered by it. The reason for this is twofold: Firstly, Murphy picks very good artists to imitate. Secondly, it is not a thought along the lines of “I wish I was listening to David Bowie” that stays with you at the end of any of the aforementioned songs; what remains is a simple joy at the fact you are listening to some memorable, emotionally sincere, and endlessly danceable music.
This streak continues into LCD Soundsystem’s two latest songs, “Call the Police” and “American Dream”, the first of which I would liken to Pulp’s “Common People” with its great vocal melodies, driving bass, and layers of guitars and synthesizers.
It also feels far more in the moment than most LCD songs, which are usually painstakingly produced by Murphy. On this track, the instrumentation is a little more sporadic, coming in and out and playing less clearly arranged parts, sounding to me like the work of a group of musicians playing together, although it is possible that Murphy recorded the instruments in this way himself. This has its pro’s and its con’s. What I like about it is the liveliness and chaos: Notice how, just past 4:40, right at the start of one of my favourite verses of the track, the guitar in the left channel starts playing a series of oscillating notes, and a few seconds afterwards another guitar, this one sounding like Fripp on “Heroes” (Murphy sure loves that tone), comes in the right channel playing another slightly droning lead, the two of them forming a really disorienting sound together. Messy touches like this make the track feel exciting and unpredictable. Furthermore, lively instrumentation does not mean stripped back instrumentation: There are still a great deal of layers of instrumentation on this song, forming a far denser mix than I think I’ve ever heard on an LCD song, to the point where it’s difficult to make out the specifics of much of the instrumentation, everything instead playing a part in a very powerful overall sound.
One negative consequence of this more chaotic, lively style is that the build is not as effective as it is on, say “All My Friends”. In my opinion, most of the instrumentation comes in a little too early, which doesn’t leave the song with much room to develop. Furthermore, the song doesn’t really go down in energy like the previous track does: There is a rather pretty synth in the right channel that kind of stays there the whole time. I would have loved it if layers like this had come in and out more throughout the song, striking a balance between chaos and structure, but instead we have a messy, constant build. I will say that it still has a riveting climax in the outro, it’s just this climax would have felt more powerful if there was a more interesting overall structure to the song.
To get back to positives (up and down, people – I practice what I preach): Murphy gives an outstanding vocal performance, delivering lyrics about the widening political divide in America. “We all, we all, we all, we all know this is nothing” Is a fantastic line to revive your career with, with the other standout line for me being "cause we don’t waste time with love,” with Murphy hitting that wonderfully thin falsetto on the last word. America might have a hostile political environment, but James and the gang have done their best to encourage us to drop the animosity and, sappy as it sounds, love one another.
“American Dream” is one of the least danceable song LCD Soundsystem have ever made. For starters, it’s in 6/8 (No room for a four to the floor here!), like the similarly non-danceable “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”. Murphy is taking cues from the new wave artists who have inspired him throughout his career, however this time he is drawing from their romanticist balladry far more than their colder electronic experimentation, sounding more like New Order’s “Your Silent Face” than “Blue Monday”.
The song opens with a minimal 808 loop, then launches straight into an absolutely gorgeous instrumental. I love the warmth of the analogue synths he uses here, the twinkling glockenspiel, and a bellowing orchestral-sounding drum that is used sparingly and highly effectively throughout the track. Each verse starts off very simple, with just the 808 loop, a sole rhythmic synth, and some minimal bass, with swells of synths gradually being added, until the chorus, at which point the lead synth line and the two pieces of organic instrumentation I mentioned before (the drum and the glockenspiel) come in for a beautiful crescendo. This juxtaposition of instrumental diversity between the verse and the chorus creates a very nice contrast which really emphasises the melancholic emotion that the song conveys in both its music and lyrics.
Speaking of the lyrics, they’re some of the best Murphy has ever penned. It is a portrait of someone with a substance abuse problem waking up hungover from a party the night before. This explains the sombre, reflective tone of the music: The protagonist has been confronted with the reality of the life they lead. Murphy’s vocals are again exceptional, with his falsetto sounding beautiful in the second chorus. I love how the third verse extends into the chorus instrumental, leading us to the wonderful outro: Murphy passionately singing the song’s title with some Velvet Underground-esque “sha-bang sha-bang” backing vocals. This is a wonderful way to end one of the most gorgeous songs of the band’s career.
Wrapping up, "Call the Police" is a great chaotic and dense lead single, although it could benefit from slightly better structuring, made for bands who play at bars where people actually dance, while "American Dream" is a gorgeous new wave ballad, more suited to the band that exclusively plays out 4am house parties as the night begins to end.