Review: Sound of Silver – LCD Soundsystem

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A shorter version of this review was originally published by Audioxide in November 2017. As with the review of St. Vincent’s Masseduction, what I’m uploading here is more of a director’s cut of what was originally published. Sound of Silver is one of my favourite records, so, as I’m not restricted by a small word count here, I thought I’d elaborate on a few points made in my original capsule review. I’ve also significantly tidied up the latter half, which I found to be abysmal because I had to hurriedly write most of it on my phone while on a bus. Which is not to say that the two-hundred-odd words I’ve added here have done any more justice to the album; I found it quite difficult to write about Sound of Silver without resorting to some kind of hyper-personal account of where I was in my life when this record came into it (which was the direction taken by many of the tenth anniversary pieces I read when preparing for this), so I kind of wrote around it. I think I did okay; it’s perhaps a bit too dry and academic, and I’m not sure how well I convey the fact that it’s one of my favourite records, but I’m resigned to the fact that I couldn’t have adequately summarised everything that makes this album so special with so few words. So it goes.

LCD Soundsystem was introduced to the world in 2002, in a fit of cacophonous static noise and crashing cymbals, followed by an irony-drenched dirge for a pompous thirtysomething’s sense of coolness. The track was ‘Losing My Edge’, which, with its acute self-awareness and exhilarating confluence of rock and electronica, arguably still functions as the project’s grand thesis statement. If not, the track is still worth considering here because of the great joke underpinning it all: For all his comic insistence to the contrary, frontman James Murphy wasn’t there. He wasn’t there in 1974, at the first Suicide practices in a New York City loft; he wasn’t there in the Paradise Garage DJ booth with Larry Levan; he wasn’t even alive in 1968, when Can played their first show in Cologne. No, he was born in 1970, and just barely missed out on what would become his favourite era of music, initially because he was too young to appreciate it, and later because, growing up in small-town New Jersey, he was too distant from the cities that hosted various significant cultural moments. Murphy, ever the neurotic, was keenly aware of this, and in “Losing My Edge” adopted the stance of his worst hipster self as a means of stressing the absurdity of claiming ownership of something that wasn’t even his to begin with, something he inherited. However, while it’s certainly worth challenging the ‘hipper-than-thou’ attitude espoused in ‘Losing My Edge’, the insecurities that motivated the song seem slightly ill-founded. It’s obvious to say, but first-hand experience of a scene or a band isn’t necessary to establish a profound emotional connection with the music, and one does not need to have written a record to feel some sense of ownership of it. Paradoxically, despite the self-lacerating nature of ‘Losing My Edge’, Murphy seemed to understand this, as in the music of LCD Soundsystem, and Sound of Silver in particular, we can hear him celebrating his music, and putting on all the parties he couldn’t attend back in the day.

This goes some way to explaining the magpie tendency that guides Murphy’s songwriting – the clear influence left by the likes of Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Giorgio Morodor, Lou Reed, Liquid Liquid, and the myriad others listed in ‘Losing My Edge’ – as well as his decision to privilege analogue equipment over digital software when making the record. Admittedly, such a way of working invites accusations of conservativism, of the project being little more than an exercise in borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered seventies and eighties. I am, however, unconvinced by such charges, as there is a sense of longing inherent in this record’s aesthetic that serves as the foundation for Murphy’s most sincere, mature, and emotionally complicated record to date. Indeed, the lyrical content here is frequently sombre and contemplative, with songs addressing the trials and tribulations of life on the road (‘Get Innocuous’, ‘North American Scum’, ‘All My Friends’), the loss of friendship (‘Time to Get Away’, ‘Someone Great’), and the dulling of his beloved adopted city (‘New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down’). It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that Sound of Silver was made by a guy going through some shit, and, considering this, we could perhaps forgive him if he yearned entirely for the sounds of his adolescence, the party music of his heart. Though he is guilty of this up to a point, as LCD Soundsystem is nothing if not a product of nostalgia, Murphy is also careful to interrogate such nostalgic impulses; as the title track reminds us, returning an adolescent state would not be desirable because, in short, being a teenager fucking sucked. Thus, Murphy does not merely indulge his influences or delight in his memories of a time when Everything Was Better, but instead cribs from the music and the methods of the past as a means of forging something distinctly new: a heady, indelible blend of electronica and rock that connects the dots between disparate sounds and cultural movements with remarkable finesse. There is therefore a sense throughout that Murphy is constantly warring with his nostalgia, with the longing upon which the record is predicated, which is but one of them myriad facets that confers upon Sound of Silver a remarkable vitality.

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