Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Review: LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening

We put our dog down yesterday. Well, technically my parents did and my sister relayed pertinent information to me. Abby was a Newfoundland/Lab mix and an a great dog. Recently however, her 13 year-old frame started to defy her, and like most large dogs, problems with her hip made it impossible for her to climb stairs. Her mobility took a bad turn early this week, and my parents were faced with an unenviable decision with barely enough information to make an informed one. Like any decision in life, the ripples from this choice were unclear and unsatisfying. We want to cling to what we have and hope things improve and come to us, rather than acknowledge the unsavory reality. These proverbial forks in the road become more and more frequent as we grow, but they don't get any easier. The key, I think, is conceding that you don't know, and doing what feels right.

This is probably the most awkward segue in the history of music reviews, but if any artist today can understand the crippling nature of choice and the paralysis of indecision it is LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy. We all want to make something profound and meaningful, but feel wholly unworthy and embarrassed to set out on such a pretentious path. Much of Murphy's catalogue parries definition, and he revels in this imbalance. To some it comes across as cold and uninviting, but in reality it is him grappling with the same insecurities we all share, but not quite ready to face them. His eponymous debut was a glowing example of this, bursting with wall-to-wall dance tracks to shake you out of your glossy-eyed daze. Effective but slight. 2007's Sound Of Silver, while maintaining the same energy, had a tender pair of songs at its core that finally displayed some heart and sincerity. His earlier material was so tongue-in-cheek that you felt like a moron if you took any party of it seriously. On the epic, gripping "All My Friends" however, the lyrics drip with such arresting candor that there is no doubt his heart is on his sleeve.

On This Is Happening, he struggles with the same identity crisis, wanting to make you dance and cry at the same time, and hating himself for it. The result is an even more polar product, that somehow works beautifully. The opening track "Dance Yrself Clean" is a microcosm of this tug-of-war, lulling you into the promise of quiet introspection for over three minutes before erupting with a deafening synth purr and Murphy's muffled yell. You feel duped and foolish. And if the proceeding 5 minutes didn't validate preceding 3, you would have every right to turn the record off and label Murphy an asshole. He would probably agree.

If you listened on however, you would find a thoroughly rewarding experience that strikes a perfect balance. First single "Drunk Girls" rivals "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" as Murphy's most raucous number to date, while "All I Want" and its Bowie "inspired" riff casts off all sarcasm and lays his bruised ego front and center, come what may. "I Can Change" is a jaded, hopeful number that features more personal pronouns than his first two albums combined. Of course, it wouldn't be an LCD Soundsystem record without some petulant commentary and baiting, the kind found on the industry-damning "You Wanted A Hit" and the defiant "Pow Pow". All this maturity would be for not if the album didn't close with the brilliant "Home" which serves to crystallize that the preceding honesty wasn't an aberration. Here he admits that "love and rock are fickle things" and that "it won't get any better", but this time, his voice is of affirmation rather than resignation.

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