It’s kind of a stretch to connect James Murphy’s most recent dismissal of an LCD Soundsystem reunion with the release of “Get Lucky“, which happened within a few days of each other, but it’s still worth noting. After all, it has now been seven years since Murphy waited “seven years and fifteen days” (another reference from a self-consciously referential band, this time to German trance outfit Groove Coverage’s “7 Years and 50 Days” from the year before) to play Daft Punk at his house party. Even if Murphy says, once and for all, that his band will not be returning to keep partying with the guests — “the band are just friends and we make things together and eat food together, and STILL ALL GO OUT AND DO THINGS, just not all together as LCD” — we’re still living in the house that LCD Soundsystem built.
“I think they’re a great signifier because they manage to be genreless rather than something really specific … They are like a band and they are DJs; they do song-style songs and techno songs; they do dark stuff and pop crossovers,” Murphy once said in an interview. He was talking about Daft Punk, but he may as well have been referring to the musical bastardization he’s been honing since he started spinning Delta 5, Iggy And The Stooges, and Liquid Liquid with musical partner and DFA co-founder Tim Goldsworthy at LES parties back in 2000. LCD Soundsystem transcended this divide between song-style songs and techno songs even further by combining dance and punk; the point of “Daft Punk” was the incongruity of the techno legends playing at the kind of basement show Murphy would have attended in his youth, as if Deadmau5 played a show at 285 Kent today.
In her excellent piece on the 10th anniversary of 2002’s “Losing My Edge” (the song that bumped LCD Soundsystem into the spotlight almost because Murphy feared he was being pushed aside), Puja Patel points out, “The growing acceptance of once-alternative and underground dance cultures into the pop arena is an entire conversation unto itself.” Murphy addressed this growing acceptance when he wrote that song (even though he was talking about Brooklynites with “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered eighties” while Patel in this instance is referring to EDM’s incursion into Top 40) but those new members of the underground dance culture became LCD’s target demographic. Just three years later, with the release of LCD Soundsystem, he was back in his DJ booth pedestal, still playing Daft Punk even though everyone else was, too. “I’ll show you the ropes, kid,” he says, by way of defense.
Murphy also held his own on the dance-as-rock-as-pop conversation, striking a thrilling new relationship between four-on-the-floor euphoria and the weariness (and wariness) of a reluctant rock star that used to be in ’90s noise bands. By the time This Is Happening was released in 2010, the balance had shifted somewhat. “We won’t be your babies anymore,” he sneers on “You Wanted a Hit.” Murphy had become precious to a devoted audience, and even though he’s always been enormously appreciative of his fans, there were still parts of that idolatry that didn’t agree with him. “I don’t want to be a famous person,” he told interviewer and writer Chuck Klosterman in Shut Up And Play The Hits, last year’s documentary about the end of the band and their final show at Madison Square Garden. “I like riding the subway, I like eating food. I like being a normal person.” Still, he wonders, did he do the right thing ending LCD?
Murphy’s Facebook post a year later makes it clear that he still seems to think so. Maybe I’m a perpetual optimist, but as the recent glut of reunion tours shows, there will always be a market for nostalgia (for music “unremembered” or otherwise) should Murphy choose to stage a reunion. As we wrote about The Last Waltz a couple weeks back, Shut Up And Play The Hits was functionally the end of LCD Soundsystem, even though on camera the members of the LCD family, unlike the Band, didn’t seem ready to quit being musicians together. So until they decide to quit this nonsense instead and re-form, here are their 10 best songs.
10. “45:33″ (From 45:33, 2006)
Before LCD Soundsystem launches into Part 2 of this six-part epic on Shut Up And Play The Hits, Murphy tells Klosterman, “I’ve never gone to a show and loved it without believing something about the people who are doing it, whether it’s a belief I carried in and was confirmed by their performance or they got me straight from the performance, if I didn’t know them.” Seeing Reggie Watts losing his shit scatting onstage in an FU T-shirt did that for me. This song is the first iTunes exclusive: LCD wrote it for Nike, who commissioned LCD to write music for people to run to. Interspersed with Sound Of Silver instrumentals, “45:33″ builds to a sprint with an understated Nile Rodgers guitar line, classically disco keyboard stabs, and whispers of “Shame on you!”
9. “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” (From Sound Of Silver, 2007)
It’s hard to tell who’s the wet blanket here: the city, James Murphy, or Nancy Whang’s funereal piano chords. “Your mild billionaire mayor’s convinced he’s a king,” he sings, as true then as it is now. In her aforementioned article, Patel also noted that the great thing about “Losing My Edge” is that everyone can relate to it, and the same thing goes for “New York I Love You,” a fitting closer for Sound Of Silver and their last show. When the piano starts up again after those interminable silences, it serves as both an explosion of frustration (at a barely missed G train at 2 a.m., say) and of exultation at the way Manhattan looks from the Williamsburg Bridge at night.
8. “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” (From LCD Soundsystem, 2005)
This was LCD Soundsystem’s most successful song, earning a Grammy nod and reaching No. 29 on the UK charts. It’s not hard to see why. Murphy knows how to throw a rager, from the opening “OW! OW!” and gnashing hi-hats to cowbells and making sure to move the furniture to the garage. Beneath all the bravado, however, there’s a hint of that old insecurity — what kind of 35-year-old gets 15 cases of beer, a bus, and a trailer for a bunch of kids? Plus, hasn’t he been playing Daft Punk for like a decade already? As always, Murphy hedges his bets with razor-sharp tongue-in-cheek lines (“There’s a fist fight brewing at my house/ Because the jocks can’t get in the door”).
7. “I Can Change” (From This Is Happening, 2010)
After sequestering himself in the studio, Murphy wrote lyrics so vulnerable that he had to leave the room when he asked Pat Mahoney to listen. When Murphy returned, Mahoney gave him a hug. And really, anyone would want to take Murphy into their arms after a line like “I can change if it makes you fall in love.” The juxtaposition between electronic chirps and a two-note bass line sounds like the two voices of a lover’s quarrel that Murphy narrates. Rumors that he and his wife split around the time he wrote “I Can Change” are false, but that doesn’t change the song’s emotional truth. “Tell me a line,” he says, even as he doles them out in spades, as if hoping at least one of them will work.
6. “You Wanted A Hit” (From This Is Happening, 2010)
“We both know that’s an awful line, but that doesn’t make it wrong,” Murphy says at one point in “You Wanted a Hit.” It could be interpreted as a response to “Tell me a line,” which comes directly before; despite that parallel, “Hit” instead looks to address the industry frustrations that played a part in LCD’s demise. “You wanted a hit/ But maybe we don’t do hits,” he sings after the sheets of synthesizers fall away like the dream of making it big, revealing the simmering handclaps of a riot and a low, stalking guitar line. It actually recalls LCD Soundsystem’s “Tribulations”, an icy synth-pop track that was also one of the first tracks to blur the line between personal and political themes (“Get your payments from the nation”).
5. “Dance Yrself Clean” (From This Is Happening, 2010)
The frustratingly radio-unfriendly “Dance Yrself Clean,” on the other hand, may as well have been written as a merry “fuck you” to the industry archetypes Murphy addresses on “You Wanted A Hit”. The verses cruise at a low volume for minutes at a time, faking out the first few choral builds with a twittering flute instead of the crashing beat we’ve come to expect. When the song finally splits its seams with a sudden uptick in loudness and percussive force for the chorus, though, it’s almost worth endlessly twiddling the volume knob for most of the song’s eight minutes. Plus, there’s the Muppets music video, which is one of the best music videos ever made.
4. “North American Scum” (From Sound Of Silver, 2007)
By this point, the cowbell clangs and organ buzz that set off “North American Scum” have become instantly recognizable as the anti-Pledge Of Allegiance. Whether you listened to it first on one of NPR’s indie workout playlists or blasted it in defiance of the noise complaints that shut down your house party, “North American Scum” is one of the finest anthems of our generation. As the guitar that rattles like a malcontent in the background bursts to the forefront of the chorus, you can’t help but feel your heart swell at being a goddamned American.
3. “Losing My Edge” (From Losing My Edge, 2002)
As mentioned earlier, Murphy wrote “Losing My Edge” after hearing club DJs playing music he assumed only he knew about. Against a backing beat Change,” additional vocal loops crowd around Murphy as he states matter-of-factly, “I’m losing my edge,” slipping off the edge of the beat to reinforce the point. By the end, he’s resorted to desperately listing bands like a barfly recounting past conquests, and the song closes out on one last nyah-nyah-nyah courtesy of Nancy Whang: “You don’t know what you really want.” It’s just ironic that, more than a decade later, it’s actually LCD’s frontman who doesn’t seem to know what he really wants. And maybe that was intentional: As Klosterman asks in Shut Up And Play The Hits, “When you start a band, do you imagine how it will end?”
2. “Someone Great” (From Sound Of Silver, 2007)
“Someone Great” is a bit of a sleeper hit. That tell-tale ticking beat originally showed up about nine minutes into “45:33,” peeking out from behind the tail end of Part 2. Many of LCD’s songs are nested within each other like Russian dolls, and “Someone Great” feels, again, almost like the aftermath of gauntlets thrown down on “I Can Change.” “To tell the truth I saw it coming/ The way you were breathing/ But nothing can prepare you for it/ The voice on the other end,” he sings as the continual glow in the background pulses in like pain from a new wound. It also fits song’s temporal setting: early in the morning, when everything that happened still seemed like a dream and it still hurts to open your eyes.
1. “All My Friends” (From Sound Of Silver, 2007)
In an interview with The New Yorker’s Sasha Frere-Jones, Murphy said of what is widely regarded as his best song, “I hated the song. I thought it was too poppy, and I was embarrassed.” Definitely one of the more romantic songs LCD has ever made, “All My Friends” is full of pseudo-aphorisms, no regrets, and the steadily chugging rhythm of a tour bus’s wheels. At times, the weary nostalgia and chordal progressions are even reminiscent of New Order’s “ Ceremony” (even the spectre of death is there). Murphy does earnest as well as he does satirical, and the takeaway from “All My Friends” — the call and response of “Where are my friends tonight?” “If I could see all my friends tonight” — feels very true in light of Murphy’s Facebook message emphasizing the lasting quality of LCD’s friendship, if not necessarily their making music together.
Listen to this playlist on Spotify.