As 2004 wound down and the indie buzz about The Arcade Fire was cooling off, a new band became the must-hear on the blogs and web-zines: LCD Soundsystem. Fronted by DFA Records label head James Murphy, the group’s blend of disco, punk and kitsch-pop was a breath of fresh air in a music scene that was dominated by plodding, melancholy instrumentation and cryptic lyrics. When album tracks began to leak, news of the new indie savior became more widespread and LCD Soundsystem seemed to have made a significant mark on the music community.
But when the epic, self-titled two-disc debut finally hit the streets, it hardly lived up to the hype, if at all. Scatterbrained compositions and drastically different styles created a disconnect between each song on the disc. It was driven by discontinuity, and seldom did Murphy’s signature sing-speak lyrics and quirky keyboards sound like anything more than New Wave derivatives. There was no focus. There was no confidence. There was no savior.
Nearly two years after LCD Soundsystem first disappointed fans, Murphy returns with more direction, swagger and overall talent on the triumphant follow-up Sound of Silver – a disc remarkably evolved from the band’s random and lackluster debut.
From the record’s opener, “Get Innocuous,” it’s obvious Murphy has found his own style, avoiding much of the parroting that plagued his first album. The song, and more notably the album, begins with a two-minute crescendo of staccato keyboards, electronic splashes and the titter-tat of a digitized hi-hat before his phasing vocals tear through the electronic soundscape. The track sears for its entire seven minutes and stands as the springboard from which the album will hurdle.
“Someone Great” is a release from Murphy’s spoken-word lyrics as he finally displays his vocal prowess and ability to write melodies. The lyrics may be fairly typical (“The worst is all the lovely weather / I’m stunned it’s not raining”), but their singability remedies this problem. Similarly, “All My Friends” rides a perpetually hammered piano and Murphy’s smooth vocals.
Although he improves, Murphy doesn’t sidestep all of the issues he encountered on his first album. On “Time to Get Away,” Murphy tries to push his vocal boundaries, creating a painful melody and an obnoxious chorus further depressed by stagnant instrumentation. “North American Scum” falters by its lyrics in similar fashion. Murphy’s constant cries of “We are North Americans” is more nagging than catchy, and when the chorus finally explodes, the song’s initial energy is quickly destroyed by his bland verses.
Sound of Silver‘s closer, “New York I Love You,” seems to be Murphy’s curtain call. The cut finds Murphy behind a piano, pounding out a downbeat tempo and crooning to the city that’s formed his image and record label. But as he cries “New York I love you, but you’re bringing me down,” it’s impossible not to think of Murphy bowing out, throwing in the towel and passing the torch.
When guitars rip through the humble piano/vocal duo, Murphy seems triumphant. He seems happy. And maybe it’s because he’s finally made the album he’s be trying to make for the past four years. Whatever the case, here’s to hoping this isn’t the last we’ll hear from Murphy and LCD.
Sound of Silver
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars