Over their first three albums, LCD Soundsystem established such a unique, recognizable sound that just 45 seconds into American Dream opener "Oh Baby," when the first synthesizer of the album pulses to life, you know exactly who you're listening to. It sounds great, feels great; listen on good headphones, or at least big speakers.
LCD Soundsystem are back, but a big question dogs American Dream, the band's fourth album and first since James Murphy dissolved the band following 2010's This Is Happening: Can the band maintain the magic that made their first three records so universally beloved? The answer, for the most part, is yes.
I say for the most part because there are certain aspects of the band's music that are conspicuously absent here. There are, for example, no ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek party-starters a la "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," "North American Scum" or "Drunk Girls"; in their place is an unshakable darkness that permeates the record, from the tense, minimalist dirge of "Oh Baby" through the epic, doomy sprawl of 12-minute closer "Black Screen." The nine-minute "How Do You Sleep," American Dream's centrepiece and absolute standout, is particularly dark; it spends most of its long intro as a sparse dirge, just drums and Murphy alone in the darkness before lurching to magnificent, disco-fied life around the five-minute mark.
Lyrically, Murphy muses about the search for quietness of mind ("Other Voices"), the overwhelming darkness of our era ("American Dream"), death itself ("Tonite") and, seemingly, the fear that accompanied bringing LCD Soundsystem back on "Change Yr Mind."
Importantly, though, that thematic darkness never sours the music.
A cowbell propels jittery dance floor jam "Other Voices," and while the squalling guitars of "I Used To" might be dark, they're never boring — indeed, the song marks what might be the first true guitar solo of LCD Soundsystem's career. And while the lyrics may be dark, the wah-synth funk of "Tonite" juxtaposes them beautifully, providing a soundtrack that suggests a party might be the best way to spend your last night alive.
The record's second half is anchored by the one-two punch of "Call the Police" and "American Dream," the double a-side singles Murphy first released to tease the LP, but they sound even better in the record's context; the former sounds even more joyous, the latter bigger and more spacious, its doo-wop leanings more pronounced — especially as a deep breath before the chaotic thrill ride of "Emotional Haircut."
It's hard to say, this early on, whether this record is on par with LCD Soundsystem's original studio record trilogy; though there isn't a single song highlight quite as legendarily good as, say, "Losing My Edge" or "Someone Great," American Dream hangs together perfectly. It's arguably the band's most consistent record to date — there's nary a filler song in sight here.
For now, American Dream does exactly what a new LCD Soundsystem album should do: it brings back the rush that listening to the band always has, and adds a compelling new dimension to the band's sound — a mature, realist darkness that they'd only hinted at previously — that suggests Murphy might have been temporarily out of motivation, but he was never out of ideas. (Columbia)