LCD Soundsys­tem

Exclaim! - - TIMELINE - Scater­pl­hicekn BY

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Seated on a large, com­fort­able couch in a Brook­lyn ho­tel room, the LCD Soundsys­tem front­man is open, talk­a­tive and po­lite; bright sun­light pours through the room’s floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows, so he puts sun­glasses on, but he takes them off pe­ri­od­i­cally to make eye con­tact. His shoes come off too; be­fore long, Mur­phy is com­fort­ably cross-legged, socks only. “We’re back,” he as­serts, “and I feel re­ally good about it.” On Septem­ber 1, LCD Soundsys­tem will re­lease their hugely an­tic­i­pated fourth al­bum, Amer­i­can Dream, seven years af­ter their last and six since Mur­phy walked away at the height of the band’s pow­ers. It was sup­posed to be for­ever: “we are re­tir­ing from the game,” he wrote in a 2011 let­ter to fans; “get­tin’ out. movin’ on.” He never wanted to be a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian, and the DIY dance-rock project he started as a cre­ative out­let had be­gun to feel like a full-time job.

“I like mak­ing mu­sic a lot, I like play­ing shows — there are el­e­ments of be­ing a pro­fes­sional mu­si­cian that I like, but I’m not fond of what it does to you. Re­ally pro­fes­sional bands start del­e­gat­ing: some­body writes your Face­book posts, some­body makes your plans — sud­denly you have a back­stage meet and greet. It’s no longer the Bea­tles mak­ing Help! There wasn’t a day that got sched­uled and they showed up and some­body shot a video. They had time.”

By the time LCD Soundsys­tem had be­come “sort of ac­ci­den­tally, what we did to make a liv­ing,” Mur­phy had run short on that pre­cious com­mod­ity. His love for mu­sic never wa­vered — songs about mu­sic com­prise nearly half of LCD’s discog­ra­phy — but the more it be­came a ca­reer, the less pas­sion­ate he felt.

“The more pro­fes­sional side these days means you’re never de­liv­er­ing what peo­ple want or ex­pect. By the time you do 60 per­cent of what you’re sup­posed to do, you’re used up, and you have no time to be cre­ative. That wore me out a lot.”

So he quit.

For the next few years, Mur­phy kept busy: pro­duc­ing for artists like Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Ar­cade Fire; he wrote his sec­ond film score; he made a sig­na­ture cof­fee and opened a wine bar; and, in mid-2015, he and his wife wel­comed their first child. Se­cretly, though, he also en­tered one of the most fer­tile cre­ative pe­ri­ods of his life. Mur­phy was writ­ing songs again — not for a film, not for oth­ers and not for money. Ideas were pour­ing out of him.

“I lit­er­ally was just mak­ing songs up, hav­ing fun and be­ing happy com­ing up with ideas and not think­ing about them in terms of, ‘Oh shit, I have to make an al­bum.’”

By early 2015, he’d amassed what, in a let­ter to fans a year later, he’d call “more songs than I’d ever had in my life. Just loads of them, and I found my­self a lit­tle per­plexed. If I record them, what do I do with them?”

Faced with the prospect of re­leas­ing a new LCD Soundsys­tem record, some kind of solo project or, worse, not re­leas­ing them at all, the choice seemed clear: He had to re­unite the band.

Re­turn­ing, Mur­phy knew, would be no small feat. LCD Soundsys­tem’s DIY ap­proach and min­i­mal­ist sound — a syn­the­sis of ’70s post-punk, ’80s dark synth-pop and ironic, de­tached ’90s cool — won the band le­gions of fans; their tril­ogy of stu­dio al­bums, 2005’s LCD Soundsys­tem, 2007’s Sound of Sil­ver and 2010’s This Is Hap­pen­ing, didn’t just re­flect the chang­ing per­cep­tions of genre and mu­si­cal taste in the 2000s, but stand as some of the most beloved al­bums of the era.

Not to men­tion that Mur­phy had ended the band with such fi­nal­ity — via a sold-out, three-hour, ca­reer-en­com­pass­ing show at Madi­son Square Gar­den later re­leased as vinyl box set The

Long Good­bye, and the cen­tre­piece of a 2012 doc about their demise — that many diehard fans felt be­trayed by their re­turn.

Amer­i­can Dream comes with the unen­vi­able task of liv­ing up not just to LCD’s pre­vi­ous mas­ter­works, but to a leg­endary decade. It had to be — has to be — worth the wait. But where ex­pec­ta­tion used to cause Mur­phy anx­i­ety, now, a month be­fore its re­lease, he seems si­mul­ta­ne­ously ex­cited and un­ruf­fled. Af­ter a decade of fronting one of the most suc­cess­ful bands of his time, Mur­phy has fi­nally re­al­ized that he is what the world al­ways thought of him as, even if he didn’t: a mu­si­cian.

It didn’t start that way. De­spite be­ing an ex­pert cu­ra­tor, pro­ducer and DJ who had just co-founded record la­bel Death From Above with Tim Goldsworthy and Jonathan Galkin, in 2002, Mur­phy was hes­i­tant about start­ing a band. He never con­sid­ered him­self a tra­di­tional mu­si­cian.

“Mak­ing mu­sic at all and singing was so shock­ing to me when I started LCD,” he ad­mits now. “The whole en­deav­our was so em­bar­rass­ing and naked. You have to un­der­stand: ‘Los­ing My Edge’ was the first song I turned in, and ev­ery­body hated it. Ev­ery­body at the la­bel hated it. When I left the room, they were like, ‘What are we go­ing to do? We can’t put this out!’”

Re­leased as a 12-inch at Mur­phy’s in­sis­tence, the eight-minute “Los­ing My Edge” found him ad­mit­ting, at 32 years old, that he’d never again be as cool as he once was. “But I was there,” he in­toned in boast­ful con­so­la­tion, “at the first Can show,” “in the Par­adise Garage DJ booth with Larry Le­van” and “play­ing Daft Punk to the rock kids” for the first time.

The song brought LCD Soundsys­tem at­ten­tion, but for Mur­phy, it es­tab­lished the self-as­sured­ness ver­sus self-doubt ten­sion that would char­ac­ter­ize his work. Out­wardly, the band were seem­ingly im­per­vi­ous to mis­steps — each new record added a for­mi­da­ble new el­e­ment to LCD’s dance-punk sound, and re­flected the cu­ra­to­rial fi­nesse that Mur­phy bragged about — but in­wardly, he suf­fered in­tense anx­i­ety over ev­ery step.

“Anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion are things I was born with that I’ve just been able to chip away at. The first record was re­ally easy, be­cause I was just like, ‘I have noth­ing to lose,’ but that sec­ond record, Sound of Sil­ver, was like… soul-de­stroy­ing. You know when you need to sleep, then you start pan­ick­ing be­cause it’s 3 a.m. and you haven’t fallen asleep yet, and that keeps you wide awake? That was me mak­ing Sound of Sil­ver. I was like, ‘I’ve al­ready paid for this stu­dio week, and I’ve done noth­ing, and I can’t think, and why am I do­ing this?!’ It was re­ally bru­tal. This

Is Hap­pen­ing was less bru­tal, but I had some bru­tal mo­ments; there was a week where I was like, ‘Uggghhh.’”

By their third record, Mur­phy had be­gun con­tem­plat­ing the band’s end. In 2010, he told Ex­claim! that if This Is Hap­pen­ing wasn’t their last record, it was, at least, “the end of an era of what the band is. I think it’s a nice tril­ogy, and I think that’s the end of that, be­cause it’s a full-time job in which you can’t do any­thing else.”

Time away was cru­cial for Mur­phy, but it ended up be­ing good for the band, too. When Mur­phy ap­proached them about LCD’s re­turn, they were re­freshed and en­thu­si­as­tic.

“It was hard stop­ping,” he says now, “but I feel like hav­ing ev­ery­body want to come back was re­ally healthy, as op­posed to peo­ple be­ing like, ‘We’re still do­ing this? We’re go­ing to tour again?’ Ev­ery­one got to make a purely no-pres­sure, pos­i­tive choice, which is re­ally spe­cial.”

It was pre­cisely the pur­suit of other in­ter­ests that prompted the epiphany that led to his re­turn.

“I learned some­thing im­por­tant, which is that I’m a mu­si­cian. I can do a lot of other things that are in­ter­est­ing to me, but there’s noth­ing that I un­der­stand as deeply as I do mu­sic. That’s what I most nat­u­rally am. It was good tak­ing time off and hav­ing that re­al­iza­tion.”

The ses­sions for Amer­i­can Dream were, ac­cord­ing to Mur­phy, the hap­pi­est he’s ever been mak­ing an LCD Soundsys­tem al­bum; age and ex­pe­ri­ence helped stave off the anx­i­ety that had plagued him. “I had a cou­ple of bad days where a thing that I liked sud­denly sounded ter­ri­ble, but just knew, like, ‘I’m lis­ten­ing to some­thing I know I liked, and it sounds bad to me now. I’ll come back to­mor­row, and it will ei­ther be re­ally bad and I’ll move on, or it won’t be and I’ll keep work­ing on it. It’s fine.’ I never re­ally got into a panic state, which is in­ter­est­ing, be­cause it al­lowed me to make a darker record. Be­cause I wasn’t be­ing stopped, I was able to hang onto that stuff — to hold my breath longer, if that makes any sense.”

Dark­ness is a through-line on the record: Opener “Oh Baby” is a min­i­mal­ist dirge with a slow doowop melody whose ten­sion never quite breaks; “I Used To” is a mass of gui­tar squalls and dis­torted vo­cals; and the ti­tle track chan­nels Lou Reed and the dark­ness of Sui­cide’s Alan Vega through a gloomy, wall-of-sound waltz. Even the puls­ing, wah-in­flected “Tonite,” os­ten­si­bly about seiz­ing the day, ob­sesses over death and ques­tions lin­ear progress nar­ra­tives as it lyri­cally ref­er­ences “ver­sions of selves that we thought were the best ones.”

The record’s nine-minute cen­tre­piece, “How Do You Sleep?,” is a two-part epic that be­gins with omi­nous, pound­ing toms and ends in a patch­work of tan­gled synth blasts. “[Gui­tarist] Al [Doyle] said to me, ‘It’s like “Dance Yr­self Clean” for the worst year ever,’” re­lays Mur­phy. “There’s lots of dark shit in ‘Dance Yr­self Clean,’ but it’s easy to feel up­lifted, whereas ‘How Do You Sleep?’ is just fuck­ing re­lent­less.”

Like all of LCD Soundsys­tem’s al­bums, Amer­i­can Dream feels like a nat­u­ral evo­lu­tion from the last. It takes a look back — to doo-wop, moody post-punk, even drone — while strid­ing for­ward, mak­ing it feel both clas­sic and fu­tur­is­tic. It’s also un­mis­take­ably LCD: They’ve es­tab­lished such an inim­itable sound that it’s in­stantly rec­og­niz­able from the open­ing synth bur­ble of “Oh Baby.”

“Com­ing back,” Mur­phy says, “I knew that I just had to do the best record I could — and that was it. It was like, ‘I know I know how to do this. If I work and I fo­cus, and I don’t com­pro­mise and I don’t give up, it’ll be a good record by my stan­dards. I’m not so sin­gu­lar of a per­son that what I like will con­nect with no­body be­cause I’m so unique.’ I’m pretty un-unique, so I fig­ure if I like it, other peo­ple will like it.” Now re­freshed both men­tally and creatively, Mur­phy says

Amer­i­can Dream isn’t an ad­den­dum, but a new chap­ter for the band. He’s em­brac­ing be­ing a mu­si­cian, and he’s look­ing for­ward ea­gerly, not anx­iously.

“Now, it’s just the begin­ning. I have so much mu­sic, more mu­sic than I put on the record. I have to be re­ally cau­tious, be­cause I want to do ev­ery­thing, and I tend to say yes to ev­ery­thing be­cause I’m ex­cited. But I want to make sure I don’t tour so much that it takes me two-and-a-half years to get back in the stu­dio. I kind of want to be al­ready work­ing on an­other record.”


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