Do the col­lapse

New York scene-mak­ers con­sign early re­tire­ment to the dust with dark up­lift­ing al­bum borne of en­tropy and death, says Vic­to­ria Se­gal. Il­lus­tra­tion: Ian Wright.

Mojo (UK) - - News - Amer­i­can Dream

There can be few better jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for mak­ing a con­tro­ver­sial de­ci­sion than “David Bowie told me to do it”. In 2011, af­ter nine years of unit­ing the mil­len­nial tribes with a mod­ish blend of dance and post-punk, the vin­tage and the box-fresh, James Mur­phy called time on LCD Soundsys­tem. The band played out in de­ci­sively showy style: there was a Madi­son Square Gar­den farewell, a con­cert film called Shut Up And Play The Hits, and ty­ing it all up, the box set The Long Good­bye. Mur­phy kept busy with his Re­nais­sance man projects af­ter the band went dark – launch­ing his own brand of cof­fee, open­ing a wine bar in Brook­lyn, plan­ning to re-record the noise of New York sub­way ticket bar­ri­ers. Most sig­nif­i­cantly, he played per­cus­sion on Bowie’s Black­star, a record he was in the frame to co-pro­duce with Tony Vis­conti un­til he de­cided get­ting in the mid­dle of that work­ing re­la­tion­ship might be “over­whelm­ing”. He did, how­ever, re­ceive ad­vice from Bowie – if the idea of re­form­ing LCD Soundsys­tem made him un­com­fort­able, do it. By the start of 2016, the band had re­leased a sin­gle, Christ­mas Will Break Your Heart, and an­nounced they would head­line that year’s Coachella. De­spite Bowie’s wis­dom, how­ever, un­com­fort­able feels very much within Mur­phy’s com­fort zone. While Amer­i­can Dream, the first LCD Soundsys­tem LP since 2010’s This Is Hap­pen­ing, wakes up in some of the cold­est, dark­est cor­ners of the band’s ca­reer – the clang­ing gothic hate-song of How Do You Sleep?, for ex­am­ple, or the dis­turb­ing psy­chotic break of Other Voices – Mur­phy never lets the songs be swamped by point­less neg­a­tiv­ity. There’s al­ways a point. Ag­ing, death, time, built-in ob­so­les­cence: they have all been on Mur­phy’s mind since 2002 de­but Los­ing My Edge, that tragi­comic howl of de­spair from a scen­ester sud­denly aware that the “kids are com­ing up from be­hind” and all the cool records in the world (“The Son­ics!”) can’t in­su­late against time. All My Friends was a heart­felt burst of mid­dle-aged alien­ation; Dance Yr­self Clean, from 2010’s “fi­nal” record This Is Hap­pen­ing, ob­served “ev­ery­body’s get­ting younger”. On Amer­i­can Dream’s fab­u­lous Tonite, Mur­phy rings the changes slightly: “You’re get­ting older,” he says, a disco preacher keen to get his wordy mes­sage of gloom out, “I prom­ise you this/ You’re get­ting older.” This, at least, we’re all in to­gether. It makes sense that this was the


last al­bum to be recorded at Mur­phy’s DFA stu­dio in New York be­fore it was sold: Amer­i­can Dream feels desta­bilised, slip­pery, in be­tween worlds no mat­ter how earthy the beats, no mat­ter how en­gag­ingly con­ver­sa­tional Mur­phy’s phras­ing can be. He dis­misses the idea that peo­ple might ex­pect this to be LCD Soundsys­tem’s grand po­lit­i­cal state­ment given the satir­i­cal po­ten­tial of the ti­tle – “For me that would be stun­ning if you’ve ever heard any­thing that I’ve made,” he tells MOJO, “like, ‘here comes the so­cial com­men­tary and pol­i­tics from a glib jerk’” – yet the record does feel backdropped by chaos, a world wrenched out of joint. Call The Po­lice, New Or­der in Pulp suit­ing, hur­tles by in a hec­tic whirl of sick­ness, con­flict and “some ques­tion­able views”, Mur­phy cry­ing out for “the Leonards and the Lous” as if they are miss­ing com­pass points, the bal­ances needed to re­store or­der. Else­where, the con­flict is more per­sonal: dis­tor­tions com­ing from un­happy brain chem­istry and dropped con­nec­tions. “You took acid and looked in the mir­ror/Watched the beard crawl around on your face,” sings Mur­phy dis­arm­ingly on the sickly-sweet, see-saw­ing torch song of the ti­tle track, while the Break­ing Glass con­vul­sions of Change Yr Mind layer Kab­bal­is­tic gui­tar squall with a ter­ri­ble in­er­tia: “I ain’t seen any­one for days /I still have yet to leave the bed.” I Used To, with its mar­tial bleep, stares down the bar­rel of sell­ing out: “We’re talk­ing tough/But on sub­ur­ban lawns/In prone po­si­tions”, be­fore a cry of “I’m still try­ing to wake up”. The “Dream” of the ti­tle feels quite lit­eral, the songs of­ten af­flicted by a trance-like sense of dis­con­nec­tion, a woozy un­re­al­ity. Opener Oh Baby beats with a drowsy pulse, a song about wak­ing up from a bad dream into an­other form of night­mare, while the record ends with the clean Eno lines of Black Screen, a song of grief, a tiny pixel ab­sorbed into a vast hum­ming net­work. In be­tween, there are re­births and losses, from the dot-dash gui­tar thrash of Emo­tional Hair­cut, a spiky act of ag­gro and de­struc­tion, to the alarm­ing Other Voices with its sud­den vo­cal dis­tor­tions, a ro­botic spo­ken-word seg­ment from Nancy Whang and Mur­phy’s un­nerv­ing in­sis­tence that “you’re just a baby now”. (“You should be un­com­fort­able,” shouts the singer at the end, pos­si­bly echo­ing Bowie’s ad­vice.) The bleak­est track, though, is How Do You Sleep?, a mis­er­able hate song to a former friend who leaves the nar­ra­tor with the very Mark E Smith-sound­ing “vape clowns” while they are off do­ing co­caine. It sounds like Cabaret Voltaire and Joy Di­vi­sion be­ing boiled with The Cure (“Stand­ing on the shore get­ting old”), a cold grey elec­tronic vista very far from any­thing like a good time. Yet like all the best down­beat mu­sic, Amer­i­can Dream is oddly up­lift­ing, the bril­liance of the mu­sic turn­ing lyri­cal mis­ery into a bond­ing ex­pe­ri­ence rather than a blud­geon. Its com­pelling qual­i­ties sug­gest the de­ci­sion to re­group was less to do with Bowie, bore­dom, or com­mer­cial im­pulses, rather the in­abil­ity to leave LCD Soundsys­tem alone when there’s still so much to thrash out. Thus Amer­i­can Dream feels like a strong re-state­ment of what they do, and what they can mean, a record that, de­spite its fear of death, feels very much alive. Those kids com­ing up from be­hind, haven’t chased James Mur­phy down yet.

KEY TRACKS ● I Used To ● Tonite ● Call The Po­lice

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