On Feb. 8, 2011, LCD Soundsystem announced on its website that it would be playing its last show ever that April 2 at Madison Square Garden.
Fast forward five years to Jan. 4, 2016, and the band confirmed its reunion when it was announced it would be headlining Coachella. Now, the band has released its fourth studio album through DFA Records—a 70-minute dive into endings, change, and what the concept of an American dream truly represents.
The album, fitfully titled American Dream, has received widespread acclaim and has become the band’s first No. 1 record in the United States. Musically, the album falls under a dance-rock style that’s both contemporary and an echo of the early 80s. LCD Soundsystem somewhat establishes themselves here as the 2017 version of The Talking Heads. The album is filled with the new wave synths, funky bass rhythms, and the talk-singing of lead man James Murphy that typifies LCD’s sound. The lyrics and the concepts developed in this album, however, give it more of a weight than their previous projects. Murphy insists his return to the music scene is a beginning of a whole new era for the band.
The album’s opening track “Oh Baby” is beautifully ambient, a near six-minute buildup of synth and percussion that features wonderful crooning from Murphy. He sings, “Oh sugar / Give in to me / You’re just having a bad dream / Of ringing alarm,” establishing this concept of a damaged (American) dream. Indeed, this is a large topic, but much of the album reveals Murphy’s fearlessness in delving into a grand theme. Nearly all of the songs exceed five minutes, the last track “Black Screen” even reaching 12 minutes. The lengthiness reflects the difficulty in coming to a consensus on these topics. It surely reduces some of the album’s accessibility in our instant-gratification crazed society, but the patience is well worth the reward. The depth keeps bringing you back for more.
Some highlights from the record include the titular track “American Dream,” a simultaneously comic and tender ballad about the end of youth and the prospect of the American dream for someone like Murphy. The final minute is filled with this final proclamation, “American dream! Sha-bang, Sha-bang” that seems to show how the whole thing has exploded into this ideal we’re not sure we even understand anymore.
The hilarious “Tonite” is essentially a dance anthem about the pressing similarities of dance anthems. Murphy tells us “Everybody’s singing the same song / It goes ‘tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight” exposing the tendency of pop songs to idealize the moment and the urgency of living life to the fullest “tonight.” Self-aware as ever, Murphy later sings “Oh I’m a reminder / The hobbled veteran of the disk shop inquisition / Set to parry the cocksure of mem-stick filth / With my own late era middle-aged ramblings” reminding us of the pre-internet times when things were a little less ephemeral. He is 47 now, after all.
American Dream does a great job of mixing the personal with the political. On “Call the Police,” Murphy goes into the division and dissatisfaction with America’s political climate, claiming “it moves like a virus and enters our skin / The first sign divides us, the second is moving to Berlin.” There is always wit and sarcasm in Murphy’s lyrics—one of the qualities that makes him so great—but it is the blend of the sarcasm with sincerity in this album that makes it so compelling. One moment Murphy claims, “Just call the police, the first in line / They’re gonna eat the rich,” the next moment he is expressing true, vulnerable sorrow on “Black Screen” with a small voice, “Been saving emails trails kept together / I read them back sometimes to remember.”
James Murphy is one of those few visionaries who seem to always succeed in helping us understand a little more about ourselves. American Dream calls us to look both inwardly and outwardly as we try to make sense of everything. With all its wisdom, humor, and OCD-perfected details of production, this album challenges us and dazzles us at the same time.
Featured Image by DFA Records