LCD Soundsystem Returns with Anthems to Apathy

4.0/5 STARS

American Dream by LCD Soundsystem
American Dream by LCD Soundsystem
The danceable seven-minute songs that LCD Soundsystem produced before their disbanding in 2011 continued to shape the world of alt-electronica during their hiatus. “American Dream,” their new album released Sept. 1, does not disappoint—LCD Soundsystem creates catchy beats and alternative acoustics like those that brought them to prominence in the indie-alternative scene years ago. Superficially, this album doesn’t sound drastically different from LCD Soundsystem’s previous works. The same jolt-you-awake drop that distinguished “Dance Yrself Clean” makes its way into many of the tracks on the album, but here they are more subdued. In fact, the entire album sounds more mellowed-out than most of their previous works. But more importantly, the album takes the sentiments that old LCD always referenced, about change and (not) caring, and states them explicitly.

The opening track, “Oh Baby,” is the kind of song that you can put on the background for almost any audience. The sounds are perfectly compatible, blended, sweet to the ear, nonoffensive, but also have the least character, like a vanilla ice cream cone. Contrastingly, “how do you sleep?” has a much faster tempo that induces a degree of anxiety. The percussion sounds like a soundtrack for war, perhaps, or a run through a jungle. James Murphy, the lead singer, sprinkles in drawn-out calls resembling Tarzan’s that align perfectly with this theme. But the intensity doesn’t mean that this song is all serious—it’s definitely one of the groovier tracks in the album.

One of LCD’s last album’s hits was “I Can Change,” to which “i used to” presents a stark contrast. In this album, the earnestness that inspires “I Can Change” is gone. Instead, “change yr mind” shines as the statement song of the album, an anthem to detachment. LCD Soundsystem has always claimed in its music to be a band that’s just trying to figure it out for themselves, and this song emphasizes furthermore that the band doesn’t care about popular opinion. Murphy dismissively sings, “I’ve just got nothing left to say.” To emphasize that statement, the jarring pitches from the synthesizer in this song play over dissonant chords.

“American Dream,” the title track, is pensive and blue. Resignation flows under the rhythm, and the story is not a Horatio Alger story but rather a failed American dream. The song reflects on succumbing to the challenges of reality. LCD disbanded in 2011. The fresh-eyed band’s dreams died, and this song sees LCD regretting those mistakes and acknowledging the flaws in a musician’s dream.

Most of the album is rooted in the electronica genre, but LCD’s rock influences repeatedly enter throughout the album, especially on “Emotional Haircut.” With more guitar, in fact, the song could feel like a Cage the Elephant hit. Its aggressive words may make a stronger statement than “change yr mind,” but the musical and lyrical disjunct between this song and the others in the album make it somewhat of a poor fit.

The album ends on the longest track, the 12-minute “Black Screen,” but every second of those 12 minutes is worth the listen. The last quarter of the song actually sounds more like a beginning than it does an end, with sounds associated with morning—which is ironic, as the lyrics are grasping for something that’s already gone. As much as this album is about aging, it’s also about sorrow for the mistakes ignored on LCD’s previous albums.

After years away, perhaps Murphy needed to just pick up where he left off. Except for the sense of recognition of mistakes that occasionally comes through the lyrics, “American Dream” is missing something new. The quality of music is good, but Murphy’s lyrics aren’t enough to set the album apart from or above their previous work. LCD Soundsystem hasn’t lost its touch for music to dance the night away, but it comes back in “American Dream” with more thought-provoking themes that can also keep one listening, glued to the chair.

—Staff writer Lucy Wang can be reached at lucy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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