LCD Soundsystem: American Dream

If it’s frustrating being a LCD Soundsystem fan, one can only imagine what it’s like being a member of mercurial frontman James Murphy’s electronic dance-rock outfit. The band released a mere three studio albums between 2005 and 2010 before calling it quits in the most over the top fashion, with a guest-filled four-hour sendoff at Madison Square Garden that was subsequently released as a five LP set and a feature length documentary film. Then there was nothing until the end of 2015 when it was reported the band would be headlining various music festivals the following year. This led to a new record contract, the release of a double A-side single featuring two new songs, the band’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, and finally here we are in 2017 with a new LCD Soundsystem album as if the conclusive events of 2011 never happened.

The first three lines Murphy sings on American Dream’s opener, “Oh Baby”, may be the perfect encapsulation of the record’s title, as they not only reference sleep but also manage to capture the cultural zeitgeist at this particularly tense moment in the country’s history. “Oh baby, oh baby, you’re having a bad dream,” Murphy croons to a ticking hi-hat and a pulsing synthetic bassline before the song builds with James’ straining cry pleading, “Please wake me, for my love lies patiently, please baby please, and my love plays wait and see.” At just under six minutes, “Oh Baby” is a bold statement, one that reintroduces the group by proclaiming that in their absence, the times have caught up with LCD Soundsystem rather than the other way around.

“Other Voices” finds the band rekindling their fondness for dub-inspired danceable grooves and is immediately reminiscent of The Slits’ innovative cover of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”. “I Used To” has the group employing sounds similar to Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics tape looping technique, and Murphy is heard doing an obvious Bowie impression on “Change Yr Mind”, a song that goes so far as to feature an Eno-esque spiky guitar and funky bass combination throughout. Perhaps most blatant, however, is the inclusion of “How Do You Sleep?”, a nine-minute-plus track that sounds like it was pulled directly from the B-side collection on New Order’s Substance compilation. What’s most confounding about the aforementioned derivations is that they all occur on the nearly-seventy-minute American Dream’s first half.

Strangely, the album’s three singles kick things off on American Dream’s second side in direct succession, beginning with the synth-poppy “Tonight” followed by the double A-side tracks the band performed on SNL: the energetic “Call the Police” and its inverse, the lovely ballad “American Dream”. “Emotional Haircut” comes across like a weird, tense Devo-like take on Harry Nilsson’s “Jump into the Fire”. As if copping to this homage, Murphy ends the song, yelling wildly during the final minute and sounding exactly like Harry himself. American Dream concludes with the eerie twelve-minute “Black Screen”. With lyrics about a friend being too sick to attend Murphy’s wedding, reading old emails threads, and cryptic, celestial references to song and album titles, the song may very well be about James’ friendship with the late David Bowie. Regardless, “Black Screen’s” sad piano finale is a poignant ending to an epic album.

LCD Soundsystem’s grand exit and unexpected return so soon after seemingly calling it quits for good in some ways feels like an absent father returning, expecting to pick right up where he left off after abandoning the family, without repercussions. In addition, American Dream is far from perfect. The strange decision to clump the singles together, in addition to the record’s inordinate length, are turnoffs from the outset. Yes, there are more than a few great moments here. Still, whether it’s a performance at Madison Square Garden or a number one album, one can’t help but feel deep down like they’re part of a giant con, one that ends each time with Murphy and company getting exactly what they want, even if it’s not what they necessarily deserve.

Rating: 6.7/10

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