What are the elements of a group’s sound? If you listened to all the records by the Postal Service, you’d think that the unifying force was spastic electronic beats and Ben Gibbard’s dulcet tones. If you listened to every Radiohead song, you’d know that success is defined by an operatic wail and intense production.
If you chose instead to consider LCD Soundsystem’s music, you’d understand that success is based on using a rather nasal voice to moan-talk about semi-random stuff over minimal drum and drum-machine combinations that build to a dance music frenzy. For many of the tracks on their debut, this combination is enough to hold things together. Every track isn’t a gem, but there’s enough groove and diversity here to ensure that your hipster friends will be able to dance at your next party without feeling like they’ve sold out.
The LCDS formula was established when producer James Murphy used the band name to release the single “Losing My Edge.” “Losing My Edge” starts with a sparse drum machine beat over which an aging indie rock lover complains about falling behind the curve, boiling into a climax of synths as Murphy rants off the names of bands that he admires. It works extremely well; who could object to the self-parody of a lyric like “I hear that everyone you know / is more relevant / than everyone I know”?
Murphy released six other singles over the past year, and built up a large cult following eager for the inevitable album, the self-titled LCD Soundsystem (Now on tour, the live show features Murphy on vocals, Pat Mahoney on drums, Nancy Whang on keyboard and backing vocals, Tyler Pope on bass, and Phil Mossman on guitar. If Murphy’s moan wasn’t the unifying element, and he hadn’t written all of the tracks, one would think he might be marginalizing himself). LCDS has cleverly decided to bundle a second disc of all seven singles with the album, so that anyone who hasn’t had the benefit of listening to the old tracks will get a chance. How does this combination work? First, the album:
The problem with sticking to a form is that it can get dull, and the soul of good house/dance music is having just enough variety to make the tracks seem new without actually changing. The problem with LCDS, though, is that they haven’t yet grasped this. While there are standouts (notably “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and the ridiculous beats of “Disco Infiltrator”), the basic Murphy monologue and regular beat-and-build-up means that several tracks on the CD -no matter how decent they would be as singles- come across strictly as filler. And “Too Much Love,” the worst of these, is a composition no indie-rocker should have to endure.
Indeed, LCDS are at their best when breaking out of established form. “Tribulations” sounds much more like classic house music than their other work. Although the song might be able to get DJ Bob’s approval, it has numerous dark overtones thrown in that make the piece feel fresh. “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up” borrows the baseline and guitar solo from “Dear Prudence” by the Beatles to make a dreamy, downer up-at-3-a.m. piece of psychedelia that is my favorite track. And “Great Release” is the ambient-pop track (deceptively starting with a quick drum machine beat but then restraining the sound with immense piano chords) that would close down any club and send the crowd into the night in a happy haze.
The album is well made, but stagnates because of the repetition. And how about that singles disc? The short answer is that there is nothing bad to report. The CD is the perfect sweet to complement any and all of the album’s sour. “Give It Up” is pure drum-bass-and-synth-driven funk, and “Losing My Edge” remains priceless. (Again, the lyrics! “I’ve never been wrong / I used to work in a record store.”) The “Pretentious Mix” of “Yeah” sounds like Medeski, Martin, and Wood with a dance beat, the “Crass Version” like people saying “Yeah” over and over again while morphing into a pile-up of synths and drum machines.
Because each track was cut as a single, the sound is considerably more diverse than that of the album itself, giving the listener everything they were missing. In sum, then, this whole package is a fairly diverse collection of music to grind to, along with a few exceptional and terrible outliers, all tied together by bizarre nasal monologues and drum beats. As a piece of indie-rock ephemera, LCDS’ debut album is not great art – don’t expect it to last. But if you want some music to dance to and want your friends assume that you’re cutting edge, it’s definitely worth checking out.