LCD Soundsystem

LCD Soundsystem

(DFA; 2005)

By Amir Nezar | 9 October 2007

General rules of thumb when dealing with “indie critics” and dance or “danceable” music:

1. You would almost never actually dance to what these critics call “danceable.” Unless it were, you know, revamped with an actual dance beat, remixed, and ultimately made into a different track to make it club-friendly. Or unless by “danceable” you mean being at the artist’s concert, and doing the “inching dance,” by which I mean nervously scooting an inch to the left, and then to the right --- all the while looking about and making sure that your grooving enjoyment passed unnoticed by all the hipsters around you who were all, unbeknownst to you, doing the “inching dance” as well, making for general awkwardness.

2. Paul Oakenfold is Satan. Or at least the music world’s Saddam Hussein.

3. Regular, repeated beats --- you know, what people dance to in clubs --- are boring. And let’s not even get started on 4/4 time.

4. The more artsy semi-dance forays are always the best tracks. Because you really can’t dance to them. This is why we love Daft Punk’s Homework but hate Discovery.

5. Fun sucks. Though we say we wish everyone would just bust out and go apeshit at concerts and just fucking move, we would never actually do such a thing ourselves because then people who we’ll never see again (excepting of course, at the next awkward concert) will doubtless spend hours and hours laughing at us with their friends over fancy cocktails. Plus, if fun didn’t suck we’d actually do our dancing at clubs and parties (as opposed to wishing for it in our rock music) --- but our Converse All-Stars always prevent us from getting in, despite the fact that everyone knows they’re the ultimate nerd-chic.

Which brings us to LCD Soundsystem, a.k.a. James Murphy. See, LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut, having been awaited for some time, is not particularly good. But for your average indie critic, it’s a dream come true. It’s just eccentric enough to escape club-zone, thereby making disaffected admiration admissible. It’s mostly danceable (in that cute, semi-lo-fi way), so we can self-consciously shake our shoulders (but only the littlest bit) to it alone in our bedrooms. And it’s got cowbells, hoo boy! But beyond those few selling-points, and the applicable hip reference-list that makes us coo over Murphy (Talking Heads, The Fall, etc.), it’s a neutered affair; LCD Soundsystem is mostly too afraid to be balls-out fun, but too unambitious to make for a really rewarding artistic experience. Essentially, it sits awkwardly in a no-man’s land between artistry and actual dancing fun, like guess-what-demographic.

The first disc is the weaker of the two, hammering on dancepunk nails that have been worn down to stubs. It’s a set of mostly boring extended dancepunk-ish experiments which sit on weak hooks for minutes at a time. Its opener, “Daft Punk is Playing at My House,” is one of the better of these dance-punk/techno hybrids; but it’s still only remotely interesting because of its beat, a strangely alluring compound of drum machine, handclaps, and cymbals. Otherwise, its substance is limited to a three note hook that’s reiterated ad infinitum, and Murphy’s swaggering vocals, which go through various insubstantial vocal passages and some falsetto maneuvering.

It’s not an ambitious highpoint to begin with, and the rest of the disc generally bumbles downwards in quality. “Too Much Love,” whose vocals and semi-funk vibe are Talking Heads all over, rides an utterly stale beat, brings in some weird and ineffective synth figures to complement its superfluous cowbells, and goes on for too many minutes (over five, to be exact). Only “Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up” really shows up as a bright spot on the album --- thanks to its abandonment of dance floor illusions. Sitting tight with a calm mid-tempo beat and unrushed guitar movements, it’s smoothly executed, with an excellent chorus hook. Unfortunately, it’s almost instantaneously ruined by the overlong non-starter of a non-dance track, “On Repeat,” which could’ve been alternately titled “Lazy Rapture Knock-off.”

The second disc is slow in picking up the first disc’s slack. “Losing My Edge,” of some popularity in the “inching dance” population for some inscrutable reason, is pretty awful – it hardly makes it beyond a tinker techno home synthesizer experiment for nearly six minutes before it introduces increasingly complex beats and short-lived synth effects. “Beat Connection” is equally grating in its repetition, though it develops into some interesting beat-variation after only two and a half minutes of iteration and reiteration, and noteworthy synth developments after another minute.

No, the stars of the second disc are the “Yeah” mixes (a “Crass Version” and “Pretentious Version”), which follow some superbly groovy bass lines as they chart expanding progressions of synths into cataclysmic climaxes. Unfortunately, they’re both over nine minutes long, and come far too late into the album to make the trial of getting through the album’s first disc --- and a good deal of the second disc --- terribly worthwhile.

Fundamentally, the problem with LCD Soundsystem (and so much of dancepunk) is in its inability to comfortably hybridize its rock influences with dance-floor gumption. Murphy and his cohorts just don’t know which one to choose, and so they unsuccessfully try to mix water with oil. Whether the task is, at large, an impossible one, is up for speculation. But for now, good reader, it seems most reliable to leave arty music to your apartment, and keep on having un-self-conscious fun to the good old groovy stuff on the dance floor. Unless, of course, you’re one of those critics who are ashamed of having fun. In that case, well, how do I say’re doomed.