LCD Soundsystem Under the Microscope

LCD Soundsystem Under the Microscope
Photo: Jake Walters
James Murphy knows you’re watching, waiting to cheer or jeer the most anticipated album of his career - LCD Soundsystem’s follow-up to 2005’s highly successful self-titled dance rock hybrid. "I’m not one of those people who are like ‘Oh, I don’t care what people think, I make music in a vacuum.’ I’m definitely interested in how culture works and how information is disseminated and how music is absorbed. I just can’t control it.”

The reception for Sound of Silver (out March 13), an album that shifts its focus from late-night revelry to living room listening, is one of the few things Murphy hasn’t been able to control in the last couple of years. Since emerging from behind the production desk to found DFA Records (with partner Tim Goldsworthy), LCD Soundsystem has been the hyphen in the rise of dance punk. Murphy remains the go-to remixer for dance floor aspirants who lean more to Timberlake than Timbaland, but it’s his own albums that reveal his musical ambitions.

"What I’m doing isn’t necessarily about success,” says the man who embodies New York City’s sense of cool. "It’s about asking myself interesting questions about what it is to be a band or what it is to be putting out records. ‘Why bother?’ is the number one question. If you don’t have a really good answer, other than ‘dude, I couldn’t do anything else,’ then quit. We’d have a lot less terrible, terrible music.”

Inquiries about what it means to be in a band have been particularly relevant for Murphy since LCD’s debut - he toured that synth-y body mover not with a series of DJ gigs, but by forming a "proper” band and hitting rock clubs. Sound of Silver is totally informed by that experience; while it retains the spare melodic sensibility and repetitive beat patterns of his earlier work, its focus has undergone a fundamental change.

"The album [format] is kind of a rock gesture on some level, with pop songs and album tracks and all that stuff,” he explains. "I like that. I like the structure it provides.” That’s not to say that Sound of Silver has abandoned ambitions seated below the cerebral cortex - album opener "Get Innocuous,” with its thumping bass and percussion, and over-seven-minute running time, will get many asses off the couch. "I get it,” Murphy admits, "people could DJ it, you could dance to it, but I didn’t make it as a dance twelve[-inch] or it would have been structured differently. I do approach them differently.”

Despite its more rock-oriented ambitions, Sound of Silver’s first single, "North American Scum,” nods topically to LCD Soundsystem’s breakthrough dance floor smash, "Losing My Edge.” That track posited an oldster gazing out at a sea of young, pretty faces and trying to claim a position of relevance; "North American Scum” tackles the image of American culture against its sophisticated European counterparts. Alternately self-effacing (here, the "DJ gigs just aren’t as fun”) and hometown cheerleading, the track rallies its home team with a rocking epic that is minimalist and retro yet distinctly LCD.

Murphy remains rooted in the past - no surprise, given the post-punk love-fest that is the DFA roster - but he gets to the early ’80s, musically, the same way contemporary bands did: by being inspired by the disco singles that preceded it and recontexualising those sounds, as Talking Heads spin-off band Tom Tom Club did. "I remember when I was a kid, the Tom Tom Club really shocked me - they could be dance music! It make me rethink what cool was, and I loved bands that made me do that.”