Album Review: “american dream” by LCD Soundsystem

On April 2, 2011, LCD Soundsystem held a going-away concert at Madison Square Garden. A three-hour set, star-studded audience and A-list backup singers looked to be the perfect sendoff for the band, but now, three years later, they are back with a new album titled “american dream.”

47-year-old lead singer/songwriter James Murphy has been relatively quiet in the intervening years. Production on an Arcade Fire album and a documentary about the aforementioned retirement concert were the most notable projects during the break. He almost produced David Bowie’s final album “Blackstar,” but was unable to because of scheduling problems. Bowie’s influence is felt heavily on this album regardless. Although musically stagnant, the LCD frontman is clearly a changed man since 2010’s album “This is Happening,” sounding more cynical and defeated than ever.

Murphy begins the album lamenting unrequited love on a drunken night in “oh baby,” and the following morning’s hangover in “other voices.” These painful experiences frame the rest of the album as the lead singer is forced to look at what got him in this position and at his advancing age. Musically, the songs contrast each other perfectly. The hopeful, melodic synth chords of “oh baby’s” night out are followed by the jarring bassline of the hangover on “other voices”. On the latter song, I picture a beaten-down Murphy staring into a mirror, repeating the phrase “You’re still a baby.” The song is completely obsessed with time and the singer’s inability to deal with it as he sings, “Time isn’t over, times aren’t better” and “Time won’t be messed with.” Musically and lyrically, these two opening songs are a perfect introduction to the older, more critical Murphy on “american dream”.

The topic of depression recurs throughout the album. First on “other voices,” Murphy says, “Doors all have locks on them/Like tinfoil hats, man/Made for resisting (other voices).” This is exacerbated on “change yr mind” when Murphy sings, “I ain’t seen anyone for days/I still have yet to leave the bed.” Whether because of fame or an unsuccessful love life, Murphy has locked himself off from others in recent years and clearly sees his current self as a shell of his former glory. The instrumentation on “change yr mind,” like the lyrics themselves, is unstable. A guitar arbitrarily cuts into the plotting beat and Murphy’s subdued vocals add to the discordant sound of the song.

The highlight of this album has to be its centerpiece, “how do you sleep?” One of Murphy’s greatest traits is his ability to tell extremely personal stories within the confines of catchy dance music. Here he is working through his split with former DFA Records partner Tim Goldsworthy, which was publically reported in a recent oral history of New York rock music, “Meet Me in the Bathroom.” This turbulent situation is placed over an absolutely epic beat. This song sounds like David Bowie’s version of “Dance Yrself Clean,” complete with another huge synth-drop at about the halfway mark that flips the song on its head. The way that Murphy works with his vocals on this song adds to its epic sound. His voice sounds distant, like he is yelling from miles away, trying to repair this lost friendship. Again self-deprecating, this song ends with Murphy ruining his own chances at rehabilitating the relationship when he asks Goldsworthy, “how do you sleep?” This song is the sonic pinnacle of the album and reinforces Murphy’s self-critical mindset. After the death of his lifelong psychiatrist on 2007’s “Someone Great,” it seems like he has become his own shrink.

On “american dream,” Murphy is again dealing with his old age and his past through his music, but on this album it feels harsher. The problem to overcome in the troubles of the album “All My Friends” was just distance, but here Murphy is dealing with time. On “emotional haircut” he sings, “You’ve got numbers on your phone of the dead that you can’t delete/And you got life-affirming moments in your past that you can’t repeat.” Time is a much harder foe. It has taken people and experiences from Murphy, but he has made one of his best albums in the face of this enemy.

Rating: 9/10

Recommended Listening:

  • “Sound of Silver” - LCD Soundsystem
  • “Hunky Dory” - David Bowie
  • “Total” - Joy Division/New Order

Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.craven_jr@uconn.edu.