Some songs unknowingly link to numerous trends in music. From “Pull Up The Roots” we get James Murphy’s cowbell frenzy, the slinky bass of Quincy Jones’s productions for Michael Jackson, and the strangled, hothouse sax* that marks early TV On The Radio. There is a punkish energy to the song that also looks back to Talking Heads’ CBGB days, as well as prophetically forward to the rise of evangelical churches, with their rousing call-and-response chants. And, if you listen closely, the subtly finger-picked guitar-work around the three-minute mark became a mantra for The Durutti Column and, later, “The French Open” by Foals.
I wrote a bit about this album here; this song is an under-appreciated gem near its end, which ushers in the simple masterpiece “This Must Be The Place (Naïve Melody)”.
* The saxophone is actually a treated guitar part. I guess they learnt more than a few production tricks from Brian Eno.
Taken from Speaking In Tongues (Sire Records, 1983).
Call it a cynical, money-grabbing move with artistic payoffs: Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett were moved to collaborate with André 3000 of OutKast and James Murphy (formerly of LCD Soundsystem) to help sell Converse sneakers. The most high-profile of the “Three Artists. One Song” series, this unholy troika pulled off a marathon stint in a recording studio to come up with “DoYaThing”, a glitchy electro number.
In its released state, it’s four-and-a-half minutes of nonsensical whimsy, with Albarn and André 3000 taking turns to spout non-sequiturs. Murphy crops up too, on the low-key falsetto chorus, doing battle with a misfiring analog synth. The beat is not dissimilar from the similarly standalone Gorillaz song “Doncamatic“. Whereas Albarn’s rapping shows him up as an amateur (his phrasing comes straight out of “Feel Good Inc.“), André’s contribution is typically spontaneous and naturalistic, showcasing the verbiage and rhyming that helped make hits like “Hey Ya!” stay classic.
“DoYaThing” is a song that grows on you: initially, I tweeted that it was somehow less than the sum of its parts. But the neat instrumental and production tricks win you over eventually—like the growly distorted vocals that bring André’s rap to a close, and the parps of brass that punctuate the verses.
The accompanying video (see above) is characteristic of the Hewlett œuvre: a grimy household populated by larger-than-life characters, through which the music weaves in and out.
As if this wasn’t enough of a media overload, there is also a thirteen-minute long version of the song, from which the released edit derives. I’m not going to talk about that; it’s best left to your own ears.
The final LCD Soundsystem concert, about which I enthused here, has been filmed for a documentary-cum-rockumentary entitled Shut Up And Play The Hits, après Win Butler. Its first screening will be on 22nd January at the Sundance Film Festival, and now it has a trailer (see below), so you can get extremely jealous about anyone you know who was there/will be there.
Would you look at that? It looks, and sounds, stunning. And I guarantee you’ll see every white balloon popping in super-high-definition somewhere in the film.
And now I must go and wipe away the fresh-sprung tears.
I was late to the DFA party, by dint of having been twelve years old at the time of “Losing My Edge“‘s release. But I made amends, as you may have noticed. When I went to HMV to buy Sound of Silver (a week after its release date—I wasn’t late to that party!), I also bought The Rapture‘s breakthrough album, Echoes, which, I quickly discovered, kickstarted the dance-punk revolution.
Like Battles, The Rapture have also been reduced to a trio; they have lost bassist Matt Safer. Cleverly, they engineered mass global hysteria about a so-called rapture, as a clever marketing ploy to announce their return to music (the new album, In The Grace of Your Love, follows in September). In even better news, they’ve re-signed to the DFA family, meaning an end to the sad-face which usually accompanied any mention of The Rapture in James Murphy interviews. Most importantly of all, the teaser track for their fourth album, “How Deep Is Your Love” (not a Bee Gees cover) is uncommonly good fun.
Dropping the punk half of the tag, the song is blessed with an ear-catching chorus, a restless rhythm, and seven-odd minutes of Italo house piano. Halfway through the song, everything but the piano cuts out, and singer Luke Jenner (I use this term loosely) tunelessly wails the title phrase. You think it can’t get more unhinged—and then there’s a skronking sax solo, which proceeds to go crazy for the rest of the song, peeking out from the mix at all the right moments.
Dance music hasn’t sounded this in-your-face live since Hercules And Love Affair‘s “Blind“. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to pick a cowbell and join in the fun.
UPDATE TO UPDATE: The recording of the concert mentioned below wove its way into the film Shut Up And Play The Hits, which I wrote about here.
UPDATE: According to this Facebook exchange, LCD Soundsystem have confirmed that a DVD release of the concert recording is on its way, once they have “mix[ed] the music” and “edit[ed] between all the cameras”. Great news!
So, as I was saying earlier, like a sleep-deprived fanboy, I spent the night of 2nd April sitting on the edge of my bed, watching Pitchfork’s live-stream of the final act in the LCD Soundsystem saga: a near-four-hour long concert at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Were it not for my comparatively sane flatmates, fast asleep, I probably would have been singing along at the top of my lungs—as it was, I was mouthing the lyrics under my breath most of the way through. I was giddy with excitement, and James Murphy did his best to assuage my distress at the realisation that, after tonight, his band would be no more. Finis.
LCD Soundsystem existed as both the archetype and the antidote to hipster culture. Murphy made no attempt to disguise his influences, many of whom are quoted liberally throughout the band’s œuvre—from the Iggy Pop cut-and-paste of “Somebody’s Calling Me”, to the deranged Fall-like madness of “Movement” and “Tired”. But throughout, it was a loving homage, not a pastiche. Murphy’s honesty set his music apart from the emptiness and façade-building of so much of the music which followed him.
The music of LCD Soundsystem was, in a word, generous. It welcomed you into its arms, even as it pointed out the tragic flaws at the heart of us all. On “I Can Change”, Murphy is unrepentantly a flawed romantic, putting himself down, putting others down, putting down the whole concept of a relationship. Through the simple channelling of his synth-pop heroes, the song is a triumph: you want to shed a tear alongside him, as well as for him. On “Yr City’s A Sucker”, a rambling 2004 B-side, he’s at once hyping up and deflating his adopted hometown, while a creepy/cheery synth line winds through a jumble of percussion and rock-solid bass. The effect is mesmerising; we await some kind of payoff which, when it arrives, not just embraces you, but practically swallows you up like an expanding star.
The Long Goodbye, which was a wholly appropriate title, by the way, was a final act of generosity; the musical equivalent of a farewell hug before you depart for unknown shores. For one thing, there was the breadth and calibre of guests who showed up to help Murphy through this mammoth undertaking. Arcade Fire singing backup vocals on “North American Scum“. Reggie Watts scatting through the second part of “45:33”. Marcus Lambkin (a.k.a. Shit Robot) doing vocoderised battle with John MacLean (of The Juan MacLean and Six Finger Satellite) from opposing cardboard space-ships. A male choir which included the punk-rock-cum-music-critic band Mr. Dream. Quickly, I lost count of how many people were on stage.
My introduction to Talking Heads was, because I am a young person, listening to the 1984 live album Stop Making Sense. A year later or so, I unearthed the concert film of the same name, directed by Jonathan Demme. The concert in question, which took place at Hollywood’s Pantages Theater, is the best point of comparison to The Long Goodbye (lots of guest musicians, stylised overarching narrative), but even it pales in comparison to LCD Soundsystem’s ordeal. The Madison Square Garden concert was the culmination of a week’s worth of “warm-up” gigs at Terminal 5, each of which had themselves lasted three hours. This climactic event was split into multiple themed movements, each with their own costume changes. By dint of being a conclusion, as well as an apotheosis, there was a palpable countdown going on, as the band neared the final song (inevitably, “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”).
In one of the episodes of the video diary which charted the progress of recording LCD Soundsystem’s final album, Murphy himself waxed philosophical on the closing phase of the band. “This has to happen,” he said, “this has to happen now.” And this was before the album had even been christened. Evidently, throughout the recording of This Is Happening, Murphy and his acolytes were cognisant of the external pressures acting on them, building up the sense of event surrounding the album’s release. This was not the overbearing hype that precedes the début of a twenty-one-year old, nor was it the calculating PR mumbo-jumbo that swathes the rebirth of a fallen popstar. This was the love of a band’s adoring fans and critics, by some process of osmosis, bleeding into everyday life at the Manshun.
And then Murphy would pull the rug from under his own feet, punch himself in the nose, and insist that it was “just a record”.
This tension between preparing for some kind of messianic happening, and just trying to have a good time, manifested itself in glorious fashion on the album in question. And come 2nd April, the same beast reared its head: the timer was counting down to the inevitable, while the band just wanted everyone to have fun. Fortunately, the execution was every bit as good as the conception, because this performance was flawless.
Judging by the reactions of those who were there in person, this concert may go down in history as one of the most culturally significant events of the twenty-first century. Back at home, some of this drama failed to seep through the computer screen—LCD pixels cannot convey emotion in the same way, it would seem. But even this simulacrum of being there was thrilling and moving, and I’d like to think at least some of the on-stage ecstasy found its way into my room.
The balance between chart-pleasing hits (though, as Murphy has intimated, “Maybe we don’t do hits”) and fan-pleasing cuts was struck perfectly in the first and third sets, and so we had “All My Friends” followed by “Tired”, and “North American Scum” trailed by the first and last performance of “Bye Bye Bayou“, an Alan Vega cover. Everywhere, you could see the band’s mastery of interstitial transitions between songs, a carryover from DJ-ing, no doubt, as in the way “You Wanted A Hit” morphed into “Tribulations” via Pat Mahoney’s indefatigable drumming, or in the way Gavin Russom artfully transformed the white-noise blowout at the end of “Yeah” into the elegant squiggles of “Someone Great”.
The second set was a treat for LCD die-hards, no mistake. I had longed to see “45:33” being given an airing, and here it was! With a brass band in tin-foil spacesuits! While the other players got on with the job, you could see Murphy lurking around the back of the stage, tinkering with keyboards and amps and generally preparing himself for life post-LCD. It doesn’t suit him right now, but I’m sure in time it will.
It has been noted from both within and without the band that LCD Soundsystem were bulletproof from the start—that the mythos of the band proscribed criticism. I think that’s true, but I don’t say that in a curmudgeonly spirit. I read somewhere else that LCD was the band people had dared to dream about for a lifetime: with that kind of anticipation, who would begrudge them an iota of acclaim?
But even if you were the kind of person who winced at the plaudits they have attracted, The Long Goodbye was their night; their chance to go out with a bang at everyone’s expense. And, credit to them, they didn’t. Worthier champions than that, the gig felt inclusive and all-encompassing. More than that, it looked like an effort beyond the call of duty. As we approached the finale–three songs left… two songs left…–Murphy was visibly shattered; destroyed, even. A week of exertions had taken their toll on the man; nine years of a purported ‘side-project’ had almost claimed a victim. But he was determined to the end, which made for a wonderful night.
And so they departed, “like a sales-force into the night”, Murphy pausing only to tentatively stab a stray balloon which had worked its way onto the stage, before making a characteristically low-key exit.
Two months on from when my much-promised review of This Is Happening never materialised, I now feel ideally poised to reflect on the album’s longer-lasting appeal. Now that the dust has settled on Mr. Murphy’s downcast visage, and my initial, giddy, excitement has died down, what remains is a perpetual slow-burning joy at this lovingly crafted, beautifully expressed object. Continue reading LCD Soundsystem — This Is Happening – (Re)appraisal→
In typical fashion, and in spite of the desperate pleadings from Mr. James Murphy, the final LCD Soundsystem has been leaked, over a month before its release.
In recognition of this, the band’s record distribution label (I can only presume it is them, and not the DFA) has persuaded the band to stream the album on their website. This can be found here. You can’t skip through tracks or any lark like that – it’s like being at a listening party.
I came very close to not giving in to temptation, and refraining from listening to it. In the end, factoring in my ticket to see the band play London’s Brixton Academy next Friday night, I realised it was probably in my interest to have a working knowledge of all nine songs on the album.
Predictably, the album is a beauty, channelling the spirit of Bowie and, occasionally, the sound of Bowie too. I’ll probably write a proper review soon-ish, because I’m already in love with it. In a few places it’s like listening to an amalgamation of 70s art rock classics; for the most part, it’s the most forward-thinking, original electronic music.
Oh, and right in the middle is a 9-minute long rant against the music industry with the central lyric,
“Drunk Girls” is a predictable LCD Soundsystem lead single. Witty and punky, it’s the natural successor to “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and “North American Scum”. It sounds like Bowie, in the sense that Blur’s “M.O.R” sounds like “Boys Keep Swinging”.
“All I Want” is what happens when you give James Murphy almost seven minutes to ape Bowie. Clattering in after five seconds of studio noise, and riding on an unending krautrock beat, “All I Want” is like the super-awesome sequel to “”Heroes”” that Bowie never wrote. Over victorious piano chords and a beautifully cocky lead guitar squall, Murphy comes over all Bono, intoning “I’ve never needed anyone for so long” in a pretty world-leading style. At this point, “All I Want” could be the second cousin of “Beautiful Day”.
Then, magically, the 70s art rock is overtaken by a terrifically squiggly synth melody which ascends in a manner initially euphoric, and then downright cosmic. Channelling the further-out reaches of electronic music through a beating heart of pop is a decision I initially treated with some scepticism, especially since the direction Murphy’s keyboard travels is a bit… self-indulgent, shall we say. To his credit, in amidst all the portamento-fuelled weirdness, the song never loses control and always remains just about in orbit. As he and his bandmates wail out “Take me ho-oooome!” and the piece decays into gorgeous vapours, you think, yes, he’s pulled it off.
“All I Want” is definitely the kind of epic art rock that nobody has dared tackle for at least 30 years. It manages to be simultaneously extremely louche (in a white chinos and deck shoes kind of way) and also super-slick – and one senses this is probably the smallest of compliments I’ll be handing Mr. Murphy by the time I’ve heard the rest of This Is Happening.
Heads up, there’s a new Foals album just around the corner. Entitled Total Life Forever, it’s set to be released on 10th May, presumably on Transgressive Records.
The Oxford quintet’s debut, Antidotes, was something of a damp squib, riding in on a tsunami’s worth of hype, but never really reaching the heights we anticipated. It all felt rather soulless and empty, which is always a risk when you trade in vector-like math rock and guitars and synths that sound like insects, but fail to deliver any particularly meaningful lyrics or emotion. Unlike their contemporaries Battles, Foals’ music rarely captured the playfulness required to lift math rock into the category of music that you could enjoy, and not just appreciate.
Antidotes also had a troubled gestation – producer du jour Dave Sitek had his mix unceremoniously dumped in favour of the band’s own. This new one has been produced by Luke Smith, formerly of Clor, in Gothenburg. Judging by the photographs I saw of the band beavering away in the studio, it looks like some kind of palace to IKEA. Here’s hoping Total Life Forever will succeed in conveying the kind of fun most kids enjoy in an IKEA ball-pen (as opposed to the consumerist nightmare most adults endure in the rest of the store).
In other news, according to this tweet, James Murphy’s new LCD Soundsystem record has been completed, and is imminently being sent off for mastering, in the capable hands of Bob Weston (of Shellac fame).