LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream
an album review by Joshua Beane
Some bands are really just one person, one individual without whom the group could not exist. There may be many other voices, some of them very important; but ultimately, the music remains an expression of that single person’s creativity. LCD Soundsystem is more or less James Murphy, the same way Screaming Females is Marissa Paternoster, Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor, or Qiet is Christopher Vincent. For LCD Soundsystem and its newest album, American Dream, Murphy is the prerequisite element.
For Murphy, however, the prerequisite element seems to be his record collection. LCD Soundsystem albums are consistently saturated with references, obvious and oblique, to other bands. American Dream is no different. Indeed, Murphy is the Quentin Tarantino of dance-punk — a musical virus absorbing entire genres across the spectrum, using the broken down cellular matter to create something new. To wit, American Dream starts with a near direct quote from the Suicide classic “Dream, Baby, Dream,” something akin to a plot element Tarantino lifted from the 1974 movie The Taking of Pelham 123 for Reservoir Dogs . Both films use a basically identical system of character aliases (Mr. Brown, Mr. White, etc.), and if the viewer has seen the older movie, Tarantino’s film is revealed to contain the same plot device, only used to an ultimately different effect. Murphy’s musical modus operandi is similar in this way.
American Dream may be LCD Soundsystem’s best album. It is absolutely the one that has grabbed me the hardest and fastest, as it plunges the listener headfirst into long, deep oceans of synth. Before it’s even apparent, the listener becomes immersed in the layered textures of a song like the title track. The synth-heavy melodies hold dreamy depths that, halfway in, leave you wondering how you got to that point. Oddly enough, the opacity of the album’s sound is reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine. While I’m not sure that comparison is specifically intended, it’s the sort of thing you find in a record with this kind of musical lexicon: the influences bubble to the top.
American Dream is also more band-oriented than many previous LCD Soundsystem efforts. Tracks such as “Call the Police,” “I Used To,” and “Other Voices” have a distinctly live-band feel. Regardless, this is more than just a bunch of cool synths and drum machines tied together by Murphy’s creative impulse —L CD Soundsystem is a great band; reference The Long Goodbye, the soundtrack to the band’s supposed farewell concert, for further evidence. In fact, the more LCD Soundsystem sounds like a rock band, the more it reminds me of Talking Heads.
For all of the other musical references and footnotes cited on this album, none is more prominent than David Bowie. LCD Soundsystem covered Bowie’s “Heroes” during the band’s 2016 Coachella comeback shows, and Murphy worked with Bowie on his epic swansong Blackstar . Murphy has said Bowie was instrumental in the revival of LCD Soundsystem. In fact, “you should be uncomfortable,” a line from the track “Other Voices,” is actually a Bowie quote from when they were discussing reconvening LCD Soundsystem. The 12-minute album closer “Black Screen” is a farewell letter to Bowie, specifically referencing his failing health and ultimate demise. Would that the old master had lived to see American Dream realized, I am sure he would have been proud.
LCD Soundsystem’s American Dream is a wistful look at half-fulfilled promises and could-have-been’s. It’s also a grateful homage to everything that has come and gone. With it, Murphy makes something worthy of joining the heroes who’ve inspired him: a truly classic American album.
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