The entrance of Electric Lady Studios in the Village.
"But have you seen my records? This Heat, Pere Ubu, Outsiders, Nation of Ulysses, Mars, The Trojans, The Black Dice, Todd Terry, The Germs, Section 25...”
At the opening and the close of LCD Soundsystem’s third live album, Electric Lady Sessions, the band, as if penning a history paper, cites some sources. James Murphy and pals cover synth pop auteurs The Human League’s “Seconds,” as well as close kin Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang,” both of 1981. You cannot play the record nor take it off until you have seen Murphy’s record collection; halfway through they toss in a cover of Chic’s oscillating 1978 disco bop, “I Want Your Love.” To make sense of Murphy’s many references in his music, one often has to push past countless moldy curtains of irony. He loathes posturing, condescension, not having fun—but he loves The Human League, Heaven 17, and Chic, and he will not let you forget it. He also certainly loves Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in the Village, where the album was recorded, and, his logic encircling him, his best comeback to a pretentious reference is always an even more pretentious one.
Such are the contradictions of LCD Soundsystem’s main themes and subject matter: self-consciousness, the dancefloor, thoughtful poetry, the whir of turntables, existential dread, smoke and silhouettes over pink-purple lights on stage. And so on. Electric Lady reaches back into the band’s past three albums to develop these themes, putting Murphy’s 2007 musings on ennui alongside those from 2017 for context. On tracks like “i used to,” the fight against conformity, laden with charging drums, is every bit as fiery as it was a decade ago, if not more so. Murphy mysteriously warns not to “Put on suburban lawns / in prone positions,” just as the protagonist of the ghostly “get innocuous” two tracks prior lies “alone and prone in the half light.” Indeed, his point here is probably better received on a raw live recording as opposed to a prim clean one. Coupled with the zen-like acceptance of Top 40 hits on “tonite,” when the narrator finds himself “frankly thankful for the market psychology you’re hipping us to,” one interpretation of Electric Lady’s overall statement might just be the simple, terrifying insight that little has changed in popular culture since LCD started over a decade ago.
The collapsing piano of dancepunk, a genre known for emitting guttural guitar sounds, shaky bass lines, and the like, has seen considerable revival since the 2000s. Yet it is often associated more with crowds, concerts, and, well, dancing, which makes the closed-off Electric Lady and its library of historical nods an odd installment. Consider the punks of the band !!! (pronounced chk-chk-chk) and their 2017 track “Dancing Is the Best Revenge.” As if addressing Murphy’s cynicism, they seem to shrug, “Maybe I used to care that life had been unfair,” as the beat drowns them out. They then conclude that the dancefloor is the answer, comparing the freedom of realizing this to coming up for air after being “tied up in a sack on the ocean floor”—perhaps Murphy could learn a thing or two. British post-punk outfit Shopping thinks so, and all but ditches lyrics entirely on the extremely danceable and minimalist 2018 song “The Hype,” foregrounding their very unironic grooves (seriously, go listen to it). According to the title of one slick 2015 track, they are basically imploring Murphy to leave the studio: “Take It Outside.”
It ends up being that my favorite parts of Electric Lady are when LCD Soundsystem sounds like other bands. For instance, old dancepunk path-breakers The Faint let the expressive elements of their genre float to the surface on honest, confessional 2004 tracks, from “Desperate Guys” to “I Disappear,” while LCD’s straight-laced nihilism can get boring. Murphy sings, “We all know this is nothing / This is nowhere,” as he inaugurates a long, politically-charged monologue on “call the police,” whereas The Faint’s version of nothingness and nowhere is nothing short of transcendence on the dancefloor: “I disappear, / I lost control, / My body’s moving, / All on it’s own.” Fortunately, on “emotional haircut,” Murphy’s voice is sharpened enough to channel his inner Bloc Party for a trademark pained dancepunk screech. As with the opening list of band upon band from “Losing My Edge,” the genre—and LCD Soundsystem—is at its healthiest when showing off a collage of influences.
“...The Slits, Faust, Mantronix, Pharaoh Sanders and the Fire Engines, The Swans, the Soft Cell, The Sonics, The Sonics, The Sonics, The Sonics...”
Barrett is a Government and Economics Senior.
PC: Wikimedia Commons/Jhsounds.