If any band defines or describes or embodies or typifies or captures the spirit or whatever of the 00s, for my particular transatlantic faux-hipster white-boy lower-middle-class web-savvy music geek demographic, then it’s LCD Soundsystem. From the moment I heard “Losing My Edge”, well over a decade ago now, with its litany of tongue-in-cheek, cooler-than-though boasts and name-drops, I was hooked; the references I got excited me and made me feel cool, and the references I didn’t made me want to go and listen to them.
Now that LCD has passed, dissipated into the ether, James Murphy’s schtick is even more patently obvious than it was at the outset: talent borrows; genius steals. His techniques may have been different, and the references he stole from slightly uncommon with, but, with LCD Soundsystem, he was essentially doing something very similar to early hip-hop; taking familiar, established pieces of music and putting his own stamp on them; it’s just that he used a band and a synthesizer to do it rather than a sampler.
So instead of sampling and looping James Brown or Buffalo Springfield or Incredible Bongo Band or Steely Dan or Curtis Mayfield or Sly & The Family Stone, he’s apeing Brian Eno’s vocals, copying Talking Heads, ripping off “Jamaica Running” by The Pool, nicking the chords and the drums from “Dear Prudence”, surfing on a song named after Daft Punk, stealing bits of Detroit techno, and heaven only knows what else. Someone once said of another band that “the original bits aren’t good, and the good bits aren’t original”; I vaguely suspect that with LCD Soundsystem, if you look hard enough, there aren’t any original bits. But that’s all good.
For those early singles and the eponymous debut album, being the coolest record collector and musical thief on the planet was enough. But there’s only so much mileage in being a name to drop, and with their second album, Murphy managed to inject a dose of emotional heft into LCD Soundsystem’s work; not too much that it became self-serious or uncool, but enough that their music was able to take the step-up from fashionable to genuinely rewarding.
Most of that emotional heft comes from a brace of tracks back-to-back at the centre of the album that deal with mortality and rebirth. But I’ll come back to them in a moment. Elsewhere it’s business as before, but just a little bit better. So “North American Scum” is a rocking dancefloor cry not unlike “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”, but just a little more raucous and fun, a little bit cleverer (“New York’s the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent” basically distilling Lena Dunham’s Girls into twelve words), while “Us V Them” finds a groove just a touch more sophisticated and compelling than anything on the debut, and “Get Innocuous!” is the most strutting, brilliant Bowie-meets-Talking-Heads-in-Detroit moment imaginable. The title track, meanwhile, is a semi-ludicrous but incredibly self-referential piece of meta-house, which seems to comment explicitly on the very emotional reactions that the rest of the record is inspiring in the listener. The whole album just sounds that little bit better than the debut, too, a little more natural space and room to breathe in the mastering, a little more physicality in the timbres of the instruments. It’s sonically delicious.
And then there are those two songs in the middle: the plangent acid pads of “Someone Great”, and the effervescently profound krautrock of “All My Friends”. The first ruminates on mortality, specifically the death of someone close, personal observations colouring a picture vividly but with essential narrative details left out, which, when combined with the (mostly) detached vocal delivery, allows the listener to project oneself deep into the song’s emotional core. If it matters, for a while I thought it was about the death of a child, but time and interviews and a little digging suggest it’s actually about the death of a therapist – which is perhaps why the narrator can’t talk about it with anyone else. Musically, a relentless synthetic hum and thump is juxtaposed with an incredibly delicate and simple glockenspiel melody working over the top, which creates an analogue safety space for the emotional narrative to play out in. It started life, crazily, as part of Murphy’s 45:33 composition for Nike; literally a running soundtrack. Wow.
“All My Friends” on the other hand is a skittish, febrile, accelerant trip through growing out of one’s youth, jitteringly repetitive piano chords and distracted high-hats and drum rolls backing observations about growing older, accepting responsibilities, one last big night out before stepping into middle age. Possibly. It’s a touching reminiscence, a greying hipster looking back at his irreclaimable youth and deciding against regret. One of my favourite things about music is the ability it has to instil in you a deep sense of nostalgia for emotions and situations you’ve never quite felt, and these two songs do that in spades.
Six years on, Sound Of Silver is still an amazing record. I don’t get it out all that often now, but that’s largely because I listened to it so much and identified with it so hard at the time that I’ve internalized it. Yes, of course, it’s a total homage to James Murphy’s favorite music, but the man has good taste and it’s a surprisingly, disarmingly moving homage that frequently eclipses its influences, both emotionally and physically.