Who would’ve thought that a once impossible record would be one of the best of the year? After a breakup, reunion, and a few delays, LCD Soundsystem’s fourth record is a triumphant return for James Murphy and company. With more live instrumentation, attitude and sonic diversity than any of their previous releases, this is one that won’t disappoint fans or even new listeners.
The album beats open with a dark and menacing tone more evolved than the band has ever had before, with the loud bass synth notes kicking in the melody of “Oh Baby”. As James Murphy sings with a new note of love and tenderness, angelic synths cut through the ringing hooks to make a euphoric refrain in the keys.
“Other Voices” rumbles with a frantic beat and bass line that doesn’t quit, making it easy to get lost in the rhythms before the vocals even come in. While there are definitely comparisons to be made to Arcade Fire’s “Signs Of Life,” the building composition of the song, and the cowbell for that matter, make it all Murphy. Riding the wave of instruments, Murphy commands as he lets out all the energy through engulfing harmonies and shrieking cries as the band gets intensely loud towards the final push of synths. Continuously delivering, Nancy Whang delivers a cool clubby verse before a final shred of guitar brings us to the close.
Heavy drums and drawn out piano lay the foundation for a bass groove on “I Used To,” as James crafts a very dense take on The Smiths meets Joy Division. A lush production in its brutally layered sound, there’s an immediately sinister and futuristic feeling to the track, as sci-fi synths leave a tone of neon in the track. One of the most sonically different songs to previous LCD Soundsystem releases, the distinct rock edge makes Murphy’s extended composition more aggressive than ever, especially through the booming guitar moments.
“Change Yr Mind” finds Murphy pulling from the Talking Heads once again, with a distinct Remain In Light shape to the abrasive guitars and African rhythms that bolster his electronics. Cascading harmonies as he goes towards the finale of the song, Murphy brings the energy to a peak, before bringing things down for a cooling moment of synths.
Epic and fluctuating drums that recall the Blue Man Group hold the tension on “How Do You Sleep?” as Murphy’s unusually echoed vocals sail through the ether. Slowly filtering in violins, Murphy starts to carry the track forward, with a rollercoaster of sequencers lacing the energy. Loud synth bass takes the rhythm even higher, adding a primal quality to the sound that admittedly doesn’t keep the track from feeling a hair too long on its opening verses. Once it finally hits the synth hooks halfway through however, it finally picks up its momentum, excusing some of the overly extended verses that precede it. One may even notice a hint of U2 not only in Murphy’s vocals but the overall sonic tone that the song carries.
“Tonite” comes right out the gate with its pounding layers of percussion, as Murphy throws his sarcastic vocals over the most classic LCD Soundsystem track on the record. Through cutting commentary on lyrical clichés and technological fallacies, the bubbly electronica charges along, with the subtle guitars shredding through sharply. Definitely the most familiar and easy to dance along to on the album, it’s ironically less interesting than a lot of the other offerings on the record, regardless of how fun it is.
Coming in with its low bass, and screaming distortion, “Call The Police” races off as the clear anthem of the record, with the drums delivering the heft sublimely. Letting the bass and guitars dance more than they really ever do on an LCD Soundsystem song, Murphy mashes more rock into his lengthy writing style, making for a track with more moments and hooks than any regular rock track could ever deliver, especially the hilariously sly Death From Above line. l Almost overpowering in its wall of sound by the finale, this track will kill on their upcoming tour.
“American Dream” hums along with a majestic pace, as its more subdued tones allow Murphy’s lyrics to take a little more focus this time around. Even while speaking to bad trips, anxiety-driven traps of the mind and manufactured happiness, Murphy makes it all accessible and piercing with his ever-sharp ability to talk to the most relatable of taboo subjects.
Drums pound so energetically to the guitars on “Emotional Haircut” one might mistake it for a cut from their first record if it didn’t sound so deep. In its simple thrust of notes and a catchy harmonic hook, it works so well to enthrall listeners. With a machine gun like chop, guitars make a chaotic bridge before devastating guitar shakes up the already moving energy of the track. The most hyped-up track of the record, the release of the finale is everything great about LCD Soundsystem’s debut rock tracks mashed into one glorious ball of fire.
“Black Screen” takes its time way more than the rest of the record while still bringing a heavy sense of mood in its synth and bounce. While a slow-burner for sure, the pacing allows Murphy to be as intimate as possible in his delivery, letting each word hit the listener and having each synth ring in its own space. Trailing off into a tonally masterful outro, the ending is certainly wondrous if perhaps a tad long given the already extended trip to just get there.
Save for some long waits on a few tracks, the record delivers again and again without fail. With no shortage of singles and strong deep cuts, this may very well be LCD Soundsystem’s strongest record to date. Offering up everything you’d want from their record while giving you a lot you didn’t expect, it perfectly evolves the band without losing what makes them great. While a much more natural sound may throw off the devout fans, it’s very likely this will be sparking debates among their fans for years to come.
Words by Owen Maxwell