LCD Soundsystem LCD SoundsystemThis Is Happening
DFA / EMI
James Murphy has let it be known that “This is Happening” may well be the last album put out under the name LCD Soundsystem. And beyond the sadness that this declaration might cause, in the end it might turn out to make sense. Three years ago “Sound Of Silver” (2007) was justly praised to the skies for the elegant change of course that it implied. The band’s homonymous debut album was a burst of shrapnel with nine lethal bullets that perforated your flesh in three seconds and left their consequences for the rest of your life, while “Sound Of Silver” was one of those cocktails that go down slowly; at first, they are bitter in your throat, but then you don’t put them down until you have sucked the ice cubes and ordered another round of the same. The debut had programmed highlights that were as sharply defined as formulas of exact sciences, but the second opted for a delicious drifting that crossed seas and seas of particular references (especially New York albums and polyrhythmic funk). Precision and expansion of the same musical law that “This Is Happening” defines in a definitive manner extends the specificity of “LCD Soundsystem” (2005) and the digressions of “Sound Of Silver.” And thus, as a definitive glossary, James Murphy has put out one of the albums of the year and, at the same time, one of those works that leave their mark on the sound panorama for several seasons. Warning: as always, be prepared for the decaffeinated copies.
You should also be prepared for another effect that this third album is sure to have: in a display of the predictability of a certain sector of musical criticism, “Sound Of Silver” was praised, in comparison with its predecessor, for the shy accessibility of its (highly calculated) melodic shipwrecks. Well, it wasn’t “apt for all audiences” and everybody knows that we critics are crazy about this. After the undeniable hits that James Murphy put out in his debut, it’s clear that the majority of the songs in his second work were intended as gigantic, twisted musical snakes that spiralled around themselves without holding still. Ever. There, the process of searching was more important than a final result that didn’t need to adhere to the traditional song format. Now, in “This Is Happening,” Murphy has no problem singing “you wanted a hit, but maybe we don’t do hits (…) You wanted it tough, but it’s never tough enough. No, nothing’s ever tough enough.” Is LCD Soundsystem giving up? Not at all. The declaration in “ You Wanted A Hit” knocks the word down with a musical battering ram, making this song into a new “ Losing My Edge” without a need for shiny, crunchy wrapping. The string of memorable phrases in this song is breathtaking, from “You know too much, so leave us alone,” to “You wanted it smart, but honestly we’re not smart. We were never smart. We fake it all the time.”
But how can we be talking about hits and precision when the average duration of the songs is six minutes? That’s the magic. As is habitual for LCD Soundsystem, “This Is Happening” is a sound blender, a musical recycling plant that practices melodic patchwork with scraps of different genres (funk, disco, electro, synth-pop, post-punk, new wave) and illustrious references (from the typical The Fall and ESG to David Bowie, Kraftwerk or Brian Eno , including Grauzone or Japan). James Murphy is the musical equivalent of Quentin Tarantino: an artist who swallows metres and metres of celluloid, kilos and kilos of vinyl, to create something totally new, an earthquake that expands in a thousand different directions from a granite epicentre. It doesn’t matter how long their songs last, because something new and surprising is always happening, something sublime that sticks. The song as a whole has an internal sense that is revealed little by little through the calculated highlights that are often not perceived until they explode in your ears. For example, the spectacular opening with “ Dance Yrself Clean,” where after minute 3 there is a twist that completely changes the perception of the song: from the tempered funk of the beginning to the new horizons of electronic buzzing that put your feet on the ground (or more precisely, on the dance floor). After that, every song is another main dish added to an endless feast. The emotional, nocturnal aspect that Murphy sublimated in “ New York I Love You” is present again, extending the battle field through slowed-down space-rock (“ All I Want” and his guitar floating in space) or the ironic joking that makes you think of a rehearsal with a bad hangover (with that “ Somebody’s Callin Me” built around a repetitive piano line). There is also reference to the specific hits that LCD Soundsystem gave us a taste for by way of “ Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and “ Tribulations;” “ Drunk Girls” refers to past hits (“ Watch The Tapes”) to create the past-perfect single in which the lyrics that can be sung in chorus and the percussive guitar intertwine with lust and urgency, to leave you trapped in the throes of passion.But if there is one way that “This Is Happening” especially stands out, it is when it comes to putting up dikes to contain the absorbent confusion of “Sound Of Silver.” “ Home” is a compendium of the LCD Soundsystem sound that spirals out, with its showy percussion and galactic synthesisers, until it reaches an anticlimax in which nothing happens, but everything happens. The aforementioned “You Wanted A Hit” plays with subtlety when it comes to putting its cards on the table, showing that there is no need to resort to hype and easy choruses in order to compose a hit, while “ One Touch” is a disco-funk odyssey that seeks (and finds) what there is “over the rainbow” (let’s be clear: an MDMA rainbow, of course). And “ Pow Pow” is the song that everyone should agree on: a rhythmic mastodon that can bring back to bongos the dignity that they lost in house clubs at the end of the 90’s.
When it comes to evaluating “This Is Happening,” someone will remember the phrase that LCD Soundsystem doesn’t put out hits. Nevertheless, there is a clash of lyrics that is even more revealing: in “I Can Change” Murphy recognises, in a display of commitment, “I can change if it helps you to fall in love.” But, in a second of “You Wanted a Hit,” as if sneaking it in, contradicting what he says in the rest of the song, the artist affirms: “You wanted a hit. Well, this is how we do hits.” The middle ground between the desire to dazzle and the need for expression in its raw form, without commercial strings attached. Precision and dispersion. Public and critics… “This Is Happening” is the middle ground. A middle ground that could be the end point of a summary of the history of LCD Soundsystem, a collection of a thousand complicated theories in a comfortable pocket format. A middle ground that, in the end, receives very high marks. Raül De Tena