James Murphy, the frontman of critically acclaimed band LCD Soundsystem, once described his early twenties as a period marked by failure. It wasn’t some epic story of failure — it was just a story about falling into a rut.
It was about him dropping out of college to pursue a music career that went nowhere at first. It was him being hypercritical of his peers for engaging in mainstream culture. It was Murphy saying that it was too late for him to create a genius body of work because it would never compare to the success of David Foster Wallace’s monstrosity, “Infinite Jest.”
Of course, the Grammy-nominated artist has moved far past that phase in his life, but it is his experiences with failure, loss and renewal that drive LCD Soundsystem’s newest album, American Dream. Considering the political climate, it’s a cheeky juxtaposition of concepts for an album that Pat Mahoney, LCD Soundsystem’s drummer, calls “not overtly political.”
This fourth album marks the reunion of the group, despite their announced dissolution in 2011. For an album that stands as a piece of unity for the group, it’s peculiarly focused on criticizing the ever-dividing music industry. But then again, would it really be an LCD Soundsystem record without some snarky meta-commentary on the ins and outs of niche music circles?
Throughout this album, Murphy reinvents the sounds that defined an era of “indie-rock.” In the track “Tonite,” LCD Soundsystem satirizes the recurring theme of young death sung about over and over again in popular music. He takes this gruesome topic, turns up the disco electronica and creates an almost cheesy but very danceable track that mourns the loss of disc shops and warns of this wave of techno-zombies.
What used to be a name for rock music that sprung from independent labels — like Murphy’s DFA Records — has turned into a misnomer for a particular sound of music. In the late 2000s, “indie-rock” became attached to any folky, rollicking tune produced by a guy with a pedalboard and a synthesized, groveling static. It was bands like LCD Soundsystem, who merged genres of rock, electronic and post-punk, to form new amalgams of sound that were different from what was being put out by mainstream labels.
In “American Dream,” the self-titled single that was released back in May, the twinkling synth piece relays the story of a guy waking up next to “somebody” at “someone’s place.” The song makes a commentary about the current state of the music industry, but instead of being the tongue-in-cheek nihilist from “Tonite,” Murphy takes on the voice of the artist who has worked for decades to produce music — the man who has seen the steady fall and rise of the industry race by. For most of the six-minute song, Murphy’s voice follows the same gentle, lulling crescendo and diminuendo as he laments drug addiction, fleeting time and the death of Suicide’s Alan Vega, and how “now more will go with age.”
In the years between the third and fourth album, many of Murphy’s biggest influences passed away — most notably, David Bowie. The two kept an email correspondence with their friendship culminating with Murphy working on parts of Blackstar before Bowie’s passing. Throughout the album, homages to Bowie are carefully placed in the delicate moments. As American Dream weaves through the passing of indistinguishable drugged nights and solemn goodbyes. Murphy comes to the sullen conclusion that if the music industry doesn’t kill you, then age will.
Where Murphy grapples with the unbelievable highs and lows of the music industry — the bipolarity of which makes him question which states are waking and which are dreaming — is where the ultimate genius of the album lies. As Murphy snarls about the vapidity and toxicity and luxury of the music industry, he creates a story that culminates with “Black Screen,” in which he confronts his own mourning for Bowie who, for Murphy, “fell between a friend and a father.”
The dreamy synthesized beats and Murphy’s vocals fading into the whirring of the last measures is a reminder as to why he came back to LCD Soundsystem. It was a pursuit to defeat the odds of who will make it, who will stand the test of time and who will live the American dream.