LCD Soundsystem returned this week, dropping their first new album since 2010’s “This Is Happening” and their sold out “farewell” show at Madison Square Garden. “American Dream” is a big, dense, and very long album, and it is an absolutely tremendous accomplishment that solidifies LCD Soundsystem as one of the most important bands since the turn of the century.
Let’s get one thing clear right away. This is a dark album. This is the darkest LCD Soundsystem we’ve ever seen. They’ve always known how to pull together absolute tear jerkers like “Someone Great” and poignant ruminations on life and age like “All My Friends,” but all previous albums have been full of grand-hipster wit and snark. That wit and snark is gone, and Murphy and crew dive right into the heart of the existential terror and defeat at the hands of life’s most unanswerable questions.
James Murphy has always been a master at using pretentious names and concepts without ever actually sounding pretentious, so it makes sense that “American Dream” would be the title of their comeback album, released in the weird-year-of-our-lord 2017. There was much speculation in the run up to the release about the name and whether it would mean a political album or not. In a year that has been stuffed with enough political bloodsport to last a lifetime, it is relieving to find that LCD Soundsystem is more concerned with an abstraction of “the american dream” and the terrifying confusion that seems to hang over our future, both as a society and as individuals.
Musically, it is a slower and more ponderous, but more relentless than ever, with glitchy synth freakouts peppered throughout and guitarist Al Doyle channeling the best parts of Adrien Belew throughout the album. Always a band to wear their influences on their sleeves, the Talking Heads influence is still as strong as ever, though it is much more Remain In Light, than Speaking In Tongues.
James Murphy is secretly a really good vocalist, and he sings—actually sings— far more than on any previous release. He knows how to use the timbre of his voice to emotional effect, from the opening emotional pleading croons of “oh baby” to the creeping dirge of “how do you sleep?”( Remember that line about pretentious names? All of the track names are listed in lowercase letters. Yep.) It pays off very well in the end. Despite his best efforts, James Murphy sounds like a rock star.
The real heroes of this album, however, are synth player Nancy Whang and guitarist Al Doyle. Nancy Whang continues to achieve the most impressive synth tones this side of 1980, big and head-rattling, they have an unmatched physicality. The same can be said for Al Doyle. His guitar noise tones fit perfectly and manage to keep the listener on edge, like a bubbling current of danger lurking behind the glistening bells and 80’s grooves.
The standout track is “how do you sleep?” which slowly builds from a creepy, Joy Division-esque groove to a punishing synth breakdown, while Murphy strains with fear and fury singing “standing on the shore/facing east/getting older.” It works perfectly creating an unsettling atmosphere of paranoia that makes the pounding synth almost as comforting as it is brutal.
LCD Soundsystem has alway had a weird disconnect between the innocuous snark of their words and their ridiculously loud and assaulting live shows. The thing that makes American Dream the best LCD Soundsystem album yet is how it finally marries the words and the music, making a whole-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts album that is totally worth the seven year wait.
James Murphy says that it was his friend, the late David Bowie, who convinced them to reunite. His absence from this earth looms large over this album, in how concerned it is with the passing of time, life, death, loss, and the terrible unknowing that goes along with it.
On the title track, which also happens to be far-and-away the most unsettling track of the bunch, Nancy Whang produces a synth riff that sounds like the world is ending, and it reminds us that it is all ending. Slowly, eventually, and despite all our denial, our worlds will all end one day and it’s ok to be scared.
[Featured image by Kevin Winter/Getty Images]