Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Something pretty damn great

As someone who increasingly avoids both radio and the music press (the excellent Plan B aside), I've gradually felt myself drifting away from the here and now, insulated from what is most current.

A case in point: last year I honestly didn't feel I'd been exposed to enough singles to justify compiling a Top 20. Come this December, it's looking as though things will be much the same - at a pub quiz last night, not only did I not know what the current #1 is, I struggled to name more than one single released this year (the single in question being Mika's ubiquitous 'Grace Kelly').

Another case in point: I only heard LCD Soundsystem on record for the first time last year, my first exposure to James Murphy's mob coming - oh the sweetest of ironies - through 'Losing My Edge', the single which first announced their genius and set the internet a-buzz on its release three years previously. I learnt my lesson, though; having finally acquired and thrilled along to their debut album, I was a little quicker off the mark for the follow-up, picking it up on the day of release.

Despite soon growing to love their self-titled debut, I found it rather difficult to assess - not least because most of my favourite tracks aren't actually on the album at all; the likes of 'Beat Connection', 'Tired', 'Yr City's A Sucker', 'Yeah' (both the Crass and Pretentious versions) and, most notably of all, 'Losing My Edge' were instead consigned to the bonus disc which accompanied the album proper. What made the whole package so special was the way (as the tapestry of tongue-in-cheek references in 'Losing My Edge' suggests) that it drew on so many different genres and bands, synthesising them into something unique, all held together by utterly irresistible basslines. Listening to it, I began to feel that I finally understood the appeal of dance music - to the beauty of repetition, insincerity and the pure moment.

Sound Of Silver retains much of the identity LCD Soundsystem carved out for themselves, but at the same time sees them beginning to show the world a new face. Sure, there are still the accessible chant-along party-starters (wryly self-deprecating lead single 'North American Scum' is the album's 'Daft Punk Is Playing At My House') and the dance anthems (see particularly 'Us V Them', which, with its mantra of "Us and them, over and over again", seems to doff its cap in the direction of Brit upstarts Hot Chip while comprehensively reminding them who the daddy is).

With "new rave" the latest coinage to spill from the pages of the NME, the time is ripe for them to flourish in a climate they helped to create in the first place. But whereas the fawned-over new rave pack are, underneath it all, simply indie kids who once popped a pill and danced all night, and who (in Murphy's own phrase) are suffering from "nostalgia for the unremembered 80s", LCD Soundsystem are approaching things from the opposite direction, far more deeply immersed in club culture and setting out to create dance music with analogue instruments rather than simply to daub standard indie disco fare with the neon contents of a glowstick in the hope that it'll fool people. If that's harsh on the likes of Klaxons and Foals, then so be it; fair play to them, they're decent bands - but LCD Soundsystem are in a different league altogether.

What distinguishes Sound Of Silver from its predecessor is the fact that it gives tantalising glimpses of a depth and humanity beneath the veneer of self-defensive sarcasm, hedonism and hipster posturing without it feeling like some kind of compromise. Key in this regard are the record's two undoubted high points. 'Someone Great' is a patiently and splendidly constructed electro ballad, while its immediate neighbour 'All My Friends' is even better - imagine a Killers song (if the Killers were actually any good) stretched out into a wide-eyed euphoric anthem set to a motorik drum pulse and a couple of piano keys hammered incessantly for the best part of eight minutes. Both songs exhibit heart and soul, and both surpass anything that has gone before, and are more than enough to ensure that, at this early stage, Sound Of Silver is in the running for the SWSL Album Of The Year.

Of course, LCD Soundsystem aren't likely to start taking themselves too seriously anytime soon - witness the horrible lyrics of the title track, and the bloated, coked-up, self-consciously melodramatic yet strangely effective pastiche of a 70s rock ballad 'New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down' which brings the album to a close - but the revelation of substance beneath the glitterball facade is certainly an intriguing new development.


Betty said...

"I began to feel that I finally understood the appeal of dance music - to the beauty of repetition, insincerity and the pure moment."

Great! I can mail you Volumes 1-390 of The Cream Of Underground House (on vinyl) and reverse the postage charges!

Sound Of Silver is wonderful, but whenever I hear New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down I can imagine Tony Bennett covering it, which is a bit disturbing.

Ian said...

Why insincerity? I don't like that LCD Soundsystem record, but it (and most dance music) seems perfectly sincere to me.

And Hot Chip are far, far better. Our take on this album is very different because you seem, here at least, to be treating tracks like "Someone Great" and "All My Friends" as miracles because they have some sort of emotional depth "beneath the glitterball facade." Well, plenty of dance music does - it's no harder than giving rock music emotional depth. Why LCD Soundsystem get a pass for the fact that most of the rest of the record fails to do that, and is in fact "self-defensive sarcasm, hedonism and hipster posturing," I have no idea.

I hate to say it Ben, but you're being more than a little rockist here, and I don't actually try to toss that term around.

Ben said...

Ian: On reflection, I'm not sure "insincerity" was the best choice of word - "superficiality" is perhaps more what I meant.

Otherwise, though, I have to take your point on the chin - it is a bit of a rockist assessment, but I think it's something I stand by.

The "self-defensive sarcasm, hedonism and hipster posturing" of the first album and much of the latest one are by no means unattractive, as I hope I've suggeste. But it just feels as though 'Someone Great' and 'All My Friends' have that little something extra, and I'd find it hard to call that little something extra anything other than "depth".

Ian said...

Fair enough.