Sunday, May 2, 2010

Review: LCD Soundsystem *This Is Happening*

After one listen to LCD Soundsystem’s new album, I imagine a professional music critic will find herself:
  1. relieved, as the review will essentially write itself
  2. vexed, as it will be difficult to remain professional and not sound like a gushing fangirl
Thankfully, I am not a professional writer. I can go ahead and say it: This Is Happening is fucking awesome.

By god he’s done it. James Murphy, the creative force behind LCD Soundsystem, has managed to best himself. Sound of Silver was one of the great records of the last decade, but This Is Happening is even better. It doesn’t stray far from its predecessor’s format of sprawling tracks, laden with incessant hooks and beats, shrouded in yearning, leavened with wit, and unified into a whole that defies the pick-and-choose of the playlist. It's an album that demands a beginning to end listen. The lack of a departure might disappoint a few; This Is Happening is a sequel if there ever was one. Still, it’s beyond churlish to complain about music this marvelous.

This Is Happening begins with the startling “Dance Yrself Clean,” a track that starts spare: Murphy’s vocal, some drumstick patter, a bass pulse on the first beat of every measure, a hand clap on beats two and four. This hushed intro continues for three minutes before exploding into a yowling electronic romp, like a kick to a dance club's door. As far as first tracks go, you can’t ask for a more thrilling start, and it establishes the mode taken throughout the album.

Every song sounds like Murphy has consolidated his trademarks. “Pow Pow” mixes the spoken lyric of “Losing My Edge” with the playful pugnacity of “North American Scum.” (“Oh eat it, Michael Musto” is the gayest insult I’ve heard on a record. That’s a compliment.) “Drunk Girls” is “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” with an IQ of 75, a rave up with exuberance to spare. Notably, it’s the only track that clocks in at fewer than five minutes (which probably explains why it was chosen as a single).

Like Sound of Silver, whose “Someone Great” and “All My Friends” formed the heart of the record, This Is Happening has two incredible tracks at its center: “All I Want,” with its triumphant guitar hook (lovingly stolen from Bowie's "Heroes") and soaring climax that belies its lyric (“All I want is your pity”), and “I Can Change,” a song New Order would’ve gladly included on a greatest hits record.

Stepping back and looking at an artist’s career trajectory can produce the same sense of admiration as listening to his output. James Murphy has transformed himself from a precocious wunderkind to an out-and-out auteur. Yet he remains just as self-effacing, shlubby, approachable, and lovable as ever. Murphy claims This Is Happening will be the final LCD Soundsystem release. Part of me hopes he keeps his promise. No matter what Murphy’s next project is – acid polka anyone? – LCD Soundsystem remains the best example of singer-songwriter dance music.

On This Is Happening, James Murphy aims for greatness, from the album’s instantly iconic cover, to the anthemic catharsis of its melodies, to the poignancy and charm of its lyrics. He overshoots his goal and delivers a stone-cold classic. Though this year is already brimming with incredible releases, I doubt we'll hear anything much better than This.

[This Is Happening will be released on May 18. It's currently streaming for free on LCD Soundsytem's website here. The hilarious Spike Jonze directed video for "Drunk Girls" is below.]