Saturday, January 23, 2021

CLASSIC ALBUM REVIEW: LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening

Welcome to the first album review of 2021. While this might not be a formal album review, it's still gonna get my creative juices flowing. I honestly wanted to put this on the backburner for a little while after all of the Year-End Lists but I have a little time right now and friends preferred me doing this to reviewing Morgan Wallen's latest album Dangerous which, trust me, you don't want to hear my thoughts on that. 

For those of you who came from Reddit, you probably already know about this band and this album, but I know that likely, close to none of my friends who read this will know about either, so here's a little crash course on these guys. Hailing from Brooklyn, New York, LCD Soundsystem is the brainchild of James Murphy, the man you see on the cover. He started off as a DJ in New York's club scene and was a big hit with the way he would fuze pop and rock tracks together. Another fact that I learned about him while trying to do some background research was that at age 22, he was actually offered a job to write on Seinfeld but turned it down to pursue music (the show was just getting off the ground at the time). Sometime around 2001, Murphy started to realize that more and more DJs around the city were picking up on his influence and even playing his mixes at parties. So, at age 32, James Murphy formed LCD Soundsystem and dropped the band's first single Losing My Edge in July 2002. It's a song with this filthy disco beat that later transforms into some sharp drumming and a synthpop explosion. Murphy's lyrics on the song are hilarious, he's pretty much singing from the view of a gatekeeper even though he's just anxious that time might pass him over. He sings about being the first person to play "Daft Punk to the rock kids" or listing all of the records he obsesses over, listing off almost 50 artists after this person he's talking to has pretty much one-upped him. Almost like when you're a little kid and you're bragging and you go, "OH YEAH!? Well I have this or that!" 

The three core members of LCD Soundsystem. From L to R: James Murphy, Nancy Whang, Al Doyle.

The band would release three more singles before releasing their self-titled debut album in 2005 and while I'm not crazy over it, there are still some great songs on there, namely the album's biggest single and opening song, Daft Punk Is Playing at My House. Once again, there are some hilarious lyrics on the song mixed with a great beat fusing disco and punk music. I love the lines about how he bought 17 cases of beer for the party and "all of the furniture is in the garage." I also love the line about how the jocks start fighting the doormen because they can't get in. That's a thing I love about Murphy, he's not exactly the best singer in the world and you can tell he has trouble hitting some notes sometimes but his lyrics are always super relatable and he just seems like a cool guy. Someone you'd invite over to the family BBQ or that one Uncle you can't wait to see every holiday. 

2 years later we got Sound of Silver. Speaking on the recording of the album, Murphy felt that the self-titled album sounded too "woody" so to try and overcome that, he rented the same studio but covered all of the walls in tinfoil and silver fabric, hence the name. And to be honest, I almost chose that album to do for this as I think it is the band's album but this album we're here to talk about is my favorite of their albums and the one I think you should listen to first if you want to get into this band. Sound of Silver featured some sharper songwriting, tighter grooves, and the energy of the album doesn't die down at any point and the one-two punch of the songs Someone Great and All My Friends might be one of Murphy's greatest achievements with this band. 

LCD Soundsystem performing at the 2016 Austin City Limits Music Festival

In 2009, Murphy went into the studio to record the band's 3rd album. Holed up in a mansion in L.A., Murphy spent the summer of 2009 recording the album but as the album got closer to completion, rumors started swirling around saying that after this album, the band was done and it would be the band's final effort. Upon the album's release, Murphy sort of confirmed the rumors in an interview with Rolling Stone saying, "I feel like this should be the last record because a lot of people make three good records and then they don’t make good records anymore, and if we get any bigger than we are, I would lose some interest." Nevertheless, in May 2010, This Is Happening came out into the world and was instantly met with critical acclaim. It's not quite as direct as Sound of Silver but it's still equally as good. The production is still solid, Murphy's lyrics were still super relatable and introspective, and most importantly, all of the songs on here are fantastic. Sure, some of them might take a little while to build up or might take a little bit to get going but something you need to know going into is that you can't be impatient. Only one song on here is shorter than 5 minutes in runtime but don't be scared, all of the songs fill out their runtime well. 

The album opens up with Dance Yrself Clean which is a great example of not being impatient. It takes nearly two minutes to hear something that isn't either singing, thick bass, or a cowbell. And if you're having a hard time hearing Murphy sing, just turn up the volume a little bit so you can hear him more clearly. The first half of the song is Murphy singing about the downsides of his explosion to success with lines about how people come up to him on the street and feel like they deserve to conversate with him or how the people he actually wants to spend time with and actually wants to hang out with, the "present company" mentioned, get ignored or just laugh off when an entitled fan will come up to Murphy. I also love the big "aaaAAAAAAAAAAHH" harmonies that pop up throughout the first leg of the song. Finally, around three minutes in, the beat drops and it might still be one of my favorite beat drops of all time. Loud snare drums lead into a distorted synth that plays a simple rhythm before Murphy comes back in singing to the point where he apparently blew his voice out. I love his lines in this second half about how "arguments are made for make-ups" and the pressure of making music that will do well on the charts vs. making music that he wants to make. There's also a line before the song dies down where Murphy once again is wishing for the times before fame saying "I miss the way the night goes / With friends that always make me feel good." There's a little bridge where Murphy sings a few lines before the beat drops once again. It is such an insane way to open up the album. 

Dance Yrself Clean Live at Madison Square Garden. The video that made me a fan of this band. 

Drunk Girls shows Murphy's humor in full effect comparing the behavior of drunk girls and drunk guys. There are a few hilarious lines about how drunk girls "cause a couple of heart attacks" and "wait an hour to pee" meanwhile drunk boys "walk like pedestrians" and "steal from the cupboards." There's also a great line where James sings "Drunk girls know that love is like an astronaut / It comes back but it's never the same." The punk energy of the instrumental with the speedy drums and loud guitars are fantastic, it's the closest thing this album has to a rager. The song One Touch sort of reminds me of Nine Inch Nails with the grungy synth lead and some of the distorted pieces of noise in the background. As the song goes on, the instrumental just gets wilder. I love the contrast of the xylophone and the insanely distorted guitar during points of the song. I also love some of the wild drum fills that pop up after the instrumental break. All I Want is Murphy's tribute to one of his heroes, David Bowie. I love the distorted guitars on this song. They're not overbearing but they thicken up the mix pretty nicely. The synths on this song are also super dreamy and fit in more nicely than I expected and the outro of the song is beautiful. 

Then there's I Can Change which is an incredible synth pop/new wave song. It just screams dance floor. The production is insanely good and I don't think it's possible to not like this song. I also think that this song features one of James' best vocal performances probably ever. Then you factor in the lyrics which show him hopeless, desperate and trying to make a relationship work after another fight. According to James, the relationship is full of lies and that leads to all of their fights, he also paints this relationship in a way that isn't pretty at all, singing about how love has him on the ropes or even darker singing "Love is a curse shoved in a hearse." I also like the line right after this where he sings, "Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry / And this is coming from me," poking fun at the people who frame him as a terrible lyricist. And poking fun at people continues on to the next song too with You Wanted A Hit where he pretty much sticks a finger to the label for nearly 10 minutes. He sings the whole song in a way that reads almost like, "You want us to do this? We don't do that and here's why." Whether it's him saying he can't give the label hits because it feels disingenuous to write them, saying nothing he releases is tough until he and the band play it live, or my favorite little stanza where James sings:

Yeah you wanted the time
But maybe I can't do time
Oh we both know that's an awful line
But it doesn't make it wrong

There's also the great "We won't be your babies anymore" chorus throughout the song which is super catchy but also really gets the message across that James is gonna blaze his own trail no matter what the label tells him to do. Instrumentally, the palm-muted guitars and sharp drumming on the song are fantastic. The explosion of guitar and synth at around the 5:30 mark on the song is great too. 

I do honestly feel like the next two songs, Pow Pow and Somebody's Calling My Phone are a little weak but they still have their great moments. Pow Pow is just a fun little song, almost like Yeah where there's just a phrase that becomes the focal point of the lyrics. I do love the production on the song though with drums being fed through a bunch of phaser and as the song continues, more and more layers of instruments get added on top of each other. Once again, there are some hilarious lyrics on this song. I love the part where he sings about how he's been staying at home more "And have learned a little more about my neighbourhood / Which is important / You know, there's a lot of good places to eat." There's also a random bit where he sings about some things he took issues with in an issue of Fact Magazine where he sings, 

One, the king wears a king hat and lives in a king house
Two, your time will come, but tonight is our night
So you should give us all of your drugs
Three, we have a black president and you do not, so shut up, because you don't know sh*t about where I'm from that you didn't get from TV

Somebody's Calling Me is a song that Murphy apparently doesn't remember recording and it's probably the only song I wish got left on the cutting room floor. I don't think the lyrics are all that interesting and there's that weird synth bit that's just so abrasive and louder than everything else in the mix so it's not enjoyable. But thankfully, the album ends off on a super high note with the song Home. The synth line that drives the song is super chill and a bit of a contrast from the dance-flavored drum and bass which is apparently a nod to Losing My Edge. I love the energy of the song and James once again delivers a solid vocal performance. The lyrics are about one last party before the year ends but as the song continues, there's a person who parties a little too hard and ends up "rolling on the floor" and goes home with the help of a few designated drivers. It's an amazing bow wrapped on top of this fantastic album.

After this album, the band embarked on a world tour and announced that their show at Madison Square Garden would be their last show, ever. It was a 4-hour long spectacle that sent the band off in the best way possible. However, 5 short years later and with words of advice from David Bowie who had recently passed, the band reunited to headline Coachella. They would go on to headline a handful of other festivals before releasing their 4th album, American Dream, which isn't their best, but is still solid. If you've been trying to find a way get into LCD Soundsytem, definitely start with this one. It's not only my favorite LCD Soundsystem album, but it's also likely their most accessible and without a doubt, a classic album. 

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