Some Songs Considered #037: LCD Soundsystem is Back! (This Is Happening…)
Welcome to Some Songs Considered, a column that recognizes they can’t all be zingers and truly appreciates the ones that are.
LCD Soundsystem is back!#
And if you thought James Murphy had a lot to say on the matter:
then you’ve never met the Some Songs Considered team.
Click titles to jump:
“So Yeezus Walks into James Murphy’s Wine Bar” by Justin McCarthy
“When Someone Great Returns” by Bryce Rudow
“Until You Remember the Feelings of a Real Live Emotional Teenager” by Lindsay Hogan
So Yeezus Walks into James Murphy’s Wine Bar
by Justin McCarthy (@JustinSMcCarthy)
If you haven’t figured it out already, my role in this weekly music column is to write for the poptimists, the scene-rejecters, and the Pitchfork apostates; those that prefer sugary hooks to sour cacophony, the anti-posturers. Basically, the opposite of the art school Brooklynites with their little jackets, and borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80s.
Don’t get that reference? Perfect — you are my audience. But even if you don’t know LCD Soundsystem, you may have noticed that a ton of thinkpieces hit the web this week discussing the stakes of this reunion, and what fans are allowed to expect, and what the whole thing means, man. However, had you perused the discussion sections on these pieces, you would have noticed the sheer number of comments that read something to the effect of “I’ve never heard of this band, why do they matter?”
Well, reader, I can’t really do much to convince you why they matter, because then you could be all “well, what if we’re hydrogen bombed by North Korea tomorrow – do they ‘matter’ then?” and then I’d have to be all “no.” But I can definitely tell you who they are in a greater, culture-altering sense.
In order to do that, though, allow me to discuss their similarities to a major pop culture figure with whom I’m sure you are familiar…
— his Yeezusness, Kanye West.
LCD Soundsystem’s active period, from the early 2000s through the end of the decade, actually shares a lot in common with the first act of Kanye’s career during that same time frame. So, if you’ve never heard of LCD Soundsystem, perhaps you can think of them as the Kanye of indie rock.
Their presence is indeed a present — and here’s why:
With his 2004 debut album The College Dropout, Kanye disrupted the larger-than-life culture of hip-hop by spitting extremely relatable bars about working grave shifts and sharing a bed with his cousins.
In 2005, LCD Soundsystem disrupted indie rock by dropping an album of self-aware dance music rooted in art rock, the intersections of disco and house music, and most importantly, the forgotten bands of 1980s New York.
In an era dominated by the stifling aesthetic specificity of bands like The Strokes, LCD was refreshingly looser, more malleable, and despite their love of electronic soundscapes, more human.
The Sweet Spot
…of critical acclaim and wide appeal.
Kanye hit the sweet spot of hip-hop with his first two albums by merging “backpack” ethos and underground collaborators together with pop ambition and the current kings of the rap charts for features.
LCD hit that same sweet spot for indie rock with 2007 album Sounds of Silver; their songs challenged traditional indie fans with the novelty of sounds, textures, track lengths, and aesthetics borrowed from the dance world, yet it still felt rooted in rock thanks to the melodic sensibility and soul-baring lyrics of frontman James Murphy.
Key example: “All My Friends.”
Cults of Personality
Where would Kanye be without his icon status, borne of award show antics, instantly quotable interviews, and eye-grabbing media stunts?
James Murphy, too, knows how to capture the imagination of his public. His PR grabs, however, take the form of soft New Yorker profiles, the opening of a wine bar, playing Brian Eno to Arcade Fire’s David Bowie, etc. Like West, Murphy makes a point of staying busy and in the public eye, while relentlessly maintaining his brand (read: erudite, neurotic, East Coast).
The Artist’s Journey
Kanye’s improbable journey as an artist is the stuff of legend — it’s also fascinatingly contradictory. In the last decade, we’ve seen Kanye shift his focus from the quotidian (“my dog worked at Taco Bell hooked us up plural / fired a week later the manager count the churros“#) to the grandiose and mythic (“I Am A God“#). As listeners, though, we buy it; it feels earned, and it feels like a natural trajectory, despite its incongruence.
LCD, on the other hand, was always a band for the tragically cool, or those who tragically desired to be the tragically cool, which turns out to be an alarmingly small contingent of the populace. You could reasonably call LCD your own; it didn’t seem as though their place in the culture would ever be such that you’d have to worry about, you know, bros liking them and stuff. In the midst of broadening their fanbase with the release of 2010’s This Is Happening, their cache seemed more intact than ever. In 2011, LCD Soundsystem played a sold-out farewell gig at Madison Square Garden, and four additional sold-out Terminal 5 shows. That’s superstar status — and yet the band still felt like ours.
Now here we are in 2016, and James Murphy’s name is all up in the mouth of the mainstream media in the same breath as Guns N’ Roses. And yet, LCD Soundsystem remains inclusively exclusive; a cool band for everyone.
If Kanye had cut his career short a la LCD Soundsystem — say, a five-year hiatus after My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy — that would’ve been tragic; we would have missed out on Yeezus and countless other gifts ‘Ye gave us in all that time. But who knows, maybe we’d appreciate him more. Kanye did once say, “They claim you never know what you got ’til it’s gone.”
Though in the case of LCD Soundsystem, I guess the claim is slightly different. It’s more like, “You never know what you got until the internet media tells you it’s come back.”
When Someone Great Returns
by Bryce Rudow (@brycetrudow)
While doing research for the Rick and Morty mega-post our TV Minus the TV column unleashed last week, I came across a series of essays Dan Harmon once wrote to help aspiring filmmakers understand basic story structure. They’re essentially a paraphrasing of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey,” only with a more approachable spin on the concept of the monomyth.
In them, Harmon says to picture a circle numbered from 1 to 8, like so:
Each of those numbers refers to a specific point in the hero’s journey, which in shorthand he labels You, Need, Go, Search, Find, Take, Return, Change.
Expounded upon, in his words:
- A character is in a zone of comfort,
- But they want something.
- They enter an unfamiliar situation,
- Adapt to it,
- Get what they wanted,
- Pay a heavy price for it,
- Then return to their familiar situation,
- Having changed.
Now I bring this idea of Campbellian story structure up because I think a lot of music fans and pop culture philosophers are having a hard time comprehending what this LCD Soundsystem return means for the ‘narrative’ of this legendary band (see: Lindsay’s piece below, any music site’s current homepage). There’s concern that this reunion or un-hiatus or whatever we’re calling it is going to somehow tarnish the perfect history we have inscribed on their Wikipedia page as the model for all
musicians artists to aspire to, leaving us to now reconcile how a headline gig at Coachella could ever be part of a fairytale ending.
Except any storyteller worth his weight in allegory would tell you that we were never at the end to begin with in the first place…
We always wanted to believe that the Madison Square Garden show was the final chapter, and James Murphy might have too, because it felt like the perfect ending: for one night, New York City’s most celebrated venue became a mecca and a Burning Man for its hippest son, and all was right in the indie-loving world.
That’s the thing about the #5 spot though, at the very bottom of Dan Harmon’s circle. Intentionally placed directly across from #1 — right where we originally started — it may feel like an ending, though it’s really just the midpoint of a much bigger, grander story.
You’re safe, sure, but only for the moment.
Joseph Campbell would have called the Madison Square Garden show the “The Meeting with the Goddess.” This holy, yet carnal, act is supposed to indicate unconditional and perfect love, for the goddess is, Campbell explains, “the incarnation of the promise of perfection.” And if you read any of the reviews or accounts of that final show or you watch Shut Up and Play the Hits, that description sounds pretty accurate. Not since Jay-Z’s Fade to Black tour has a musical career been so gloriously and perfectly celebrated.
Still, Campbell named the next stage in the journey “Woman as Temptress” for a reason.
As Dan Harmon noted in one of his essays, “there is often a temptation to stay right here, like at that elf guy’s house in Lord of the Rings” because you have, #5 proudly declares, finally gotten what you wanted. If you’re James Murphy, that means you succeeded in playing the kind of last concert that made people like me regret they didn’t spend their last $450 on a ticket just for the privilege of getting to say they were there. And that’s a pretty tempting offer, especially for someone as brand-conscious as Murphy.
That’s also why it’s so dangerous…
In its most broad sense, the “temptress” represents any kind of temptation or distraction away from the hero’s main task. So, assuming James Murphy’s task is to be the best god damn
musician artist on the planet, his true final challenge was not to throw the world’s best last concert, but to overcome this “perfect ending” temptation and play music again as LCD Soundsystem. “It’s all fine and well for James Bond to dip his noodle,” Harmon explains, “but he can’t lay around here all day. Electropussy might kill him with her flamethrowing lipstick or something.”
Ultimately, our hero has to leave the wine bar, ignore the siren song of the subway’s monotone turnstiles, and return home; having changed and better for it.
Dan Harmon had an eloquent way of putting it:
“When you realize that something is important, really important, to the point where it’s more important than YOU, you gain full control over your destiny.
In the first half of the circle, you were reacting to the forces of the universe, adapting, changing, seeking. Now you have BECOME the universe. You have become that which makes things happen.
You have become a living God.”
Until You Remember the Feelings of a Real Live Emotional Teenager
by Lindsay Hogan (@LindsayHogan88)
When did you lose your childlike sense of wonder?
Was there a point growing up when the house you lived in and the people who raised you ceased to be perfect figures, or did you steadily find that no place or person was flawless as you absorbed one disappointing experience after the other? High School was not as amazing as they showed on TV, neither was college, neither was your first kiss or your first apartment. These experiences and shifts in perspective are valuable, but nothing was ever quite what you pictured when you were a kid.
Is this how LCD Soundsystem is going to feel to me by next year?
As I fan, I lean towards optimism. So when James Murphy and the rest of the LCD Soundsystem crew announced their return via a tour and new album I expected to feels something besides anxiety. And while I’m hoping this feeling goes away, the return of LCD Soundsystem was so unreal in my naïve mind, that the reality of their return is putting me on edge.
While LCD is one of my most treasured bands, I’ve never viewed them as more than a flawless myth. This is hard to admit while penning one-third of a music column that I get paid good money to contribute to, but I had no idea who LCD Soundsystem was until they disbanded in 2011. Blame it on the mistakes I made in high school and college (namely, taking my academics way too seriously and dismissing adolescence), but blessedly, I had one of those friends who subliminally played Sound of Silver so often in our last year at school that my love for the album and its association with the splintering of my college family was inevitable.
But by the time my appreciation was fully realized, it was too late. The final Madison Square Gardens gig had occurred, the band had parted ways and with no disappointing decline in sight, the myth of LCD began to snowball. Having never loved this band in while they were releasing music, I skipped over all initial album criticisms, the occasionally lackluster live show, and the initial heartbreak of their separation. There was nothing but me and the music.
The band became a religion, their albums became unquestionable scripture between my friends and I. And the arc of their gospels had a perfect beginning, middle and end.
I know this isn’t a unique fan experience. In James Murphy’s open letter to fans this week, he sincerely apologized for not anticipating the betrayal some fans felt at the prospect of their return. Until now, LCD has been preserved in our collective memory as the ideal band; an authentic, progressive, near-genius group of peers and friends who decided to preserve the sanctity of their music and put down their instruments at the wisest moment.
Music lovers (and even music critics) are hungry for just one happy ending. It’s why we viscously turn our backs on artist who, in our eyes, compromise their sound and release disappointing music in the face of fame, money, or pressure; we don’t want our hearts to break any more than they already have. But in this case, our hearts were safely locked in LCD Soundsystem’s afterlife. Now on the eve of their return, one of the most emotionally relevant, joyously inclusive bands has left my heart exposed and vulnerable.
It feels like living proof that sometimes friends are mean.
The musicians whose names I’ve whispered with reverence since 2011 have become talking points alongside Guns n’ Roses and Calvin Harris. Their long-dormant detractors, the jaded internet seekers, have already come out of the ground and are chipping away at my devotion. The reality of LCD touring and releasing new music (not to mentioned headlining the most corporate of all monster festivals) feels like a childhood myth blown open. And a myth this big can only disappoint.
But who’s fault is this? Is it James, or Nancy Whang or Pat Mahoney’s fault that I allowed the fantasy of the band’s return to spiral to great-gig-in-the-sky proportions? In turning them into cult figures, did I forget what makes this band great? Their shrewd self-awareness and instantly relatable personalities and their confident music making in the face of failure is what elevated them to saints.
True, its a paradox to raise an artist to god-like status because of their empathetic relatability, but if you consider yourself a fan of LCD Soundsystem, you have to appreciate their cognizant approach to being a band. You don’t write a song like “Losing My Edge” without taking a step back and acknowledging your place in the modern musical machine.
And to be honest, as valid as my anxiety is for their return, its rooted in some serious music snobbery. The untouchable mantra of “I was there” has quickly become “everybody is going to be there.” This year I will have to give up the intimacy that LCD Soundsystem and I shared since 2011. But now the reverse psychology of “Losing My Edge” has never been more pressing. The narrator’s nostalgic snobbery is so unbearable, that it forces the listener to avoiding becoming that person: Don’t bemoan the past, live in the moment; the memories will come later. If you’re not an insufferable snob, those memories will be revered, instead of serving as self-righteous scene-currency.
So this could be the last time that I listen to LCD in a vacuum, free of the cynicism of press cycles and stains of disappointment. But I’m an adult and my loss of childlike wonder is inevitable. Confronting the good with the bad in life is always more fulfilling than hiding from reality, and to bemoan the return of my favorite band and take a contemptuous backseat to the excitement is the antithesis of LCD’s attitude. And if I’m not willing to trust my favorite band’s intentions and believe in an truly great 4th album (while facing down the haters), then was I really ever a fan to being with?
If its crowded, all the better, right?
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