“I wish that we could talk about it, but there that’s the problem…”
LCD Soundsystem related directly to my experience of living in New York. They started just after I arrived in the city and provided a consistent soundtrack to the marathon track meet that symbolizes basic survival here. Shortly after 9/11, DFA (Death From Above) was born. The name of the label is often attributed to an image from Francis Ford Coppola’s demented masterpiece Apocalypse Now and their heavyweight anchor, LCD Soundsystem (assumed to be Least Common Denominator) adopted a raw, punk rock, live for the moment, generally pissed off attitude that fit right in with what many of us were feeling at the time. Fueled by an instant tidal wave of buzz, some legendary DJ gigs and an air of mystery NYC ate them up from the word go.
Right from the outset they created a record store mystique with small batch releases that felt like collector’s items the day they came out. They had a refreshing DIY aesthetic that helped them create a space completely outside of music industry trends and seemed to say, “We may not be a great band but we know what’s cool and have the record collection to prove it.” They were clever imitators that weren’t afraid to poach from the highlights of their favorite artists and gave music writers the simultaneous joy and pain of connecting the dots that tied them to all the things they loved. Instead of trying to disguise his influences or showing contrition when someone followed a trail of clues that led to the discovery of some source of inspiration James Murphy often laughed that he hoped to make a song half as good as Lou Reed or David Bowie or The Fall or a dozen other bands whose songs stayed stuck in his head and came back to life in his own work.
LCD Soundsystem are the ultimate New York City band; cool, smart, removed, plugged in, stylish. Starting with Yr City’s A Sucker James Murphy filled his resume with anthems geared specifically to living on the island. The references, the sound, the attitude were all a perfect reflection of what it means to put up with the city’s day to day bullshit. The lyrics captured a place full of underachieving adults that struggle with the fact that they need to grow up but still want to be kids. LCD’s music gave them the freedom to act on that impulse while finding some comfort that there were so many others that felt exactly the same way. We adopted them almost immediately and they felt like our band more than any other. We loved The Strokes but we weren’t grungy rockers. We love Radiohead but we aren’t British geniuses. The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s and TV on the Radio have come close (and it’s all subjective) but somehow for kids raised on hip-hop the driving beat and cocky attitude just worked. Don’t be fooled by the indie rock classification, LCD have made some of the best beats ever put to tape. I dare you to listen to the instrumental for Someone Great and tell me different.
This brief remembrance isn’t going to come close to reaching the depth or ambitious scope of Pitchfork’s track by track You Were There piece but one thing I realized just from looking at the credits provided was how much of LCD Soundsystem is simply James Murphy. James was no model or prototypical rock star. He was an out of shape, slightly awkward, walking music encyclopedia, humble yet cocky and often a dick but only because he wanted everything to be great and it wasn’t. LCD Soundsystem allowed him a persona and a voice. I’m sure over time the expectation of fulfilling that could become exhausting but he was just so good at it… For far too long I greatly underestimated James’ lyrics because the music loomed so large. Caught up in the push/pull of the rhythm and the dramatic musical shifts I missed some of the hidden gems inside what were essentially dance tracks. He hit the universal and specific with equal aim and often adopted a hip-hop bravado with simple lines like, “Everybody keeps talking about it, nobody’s getting it done” that got right to the point.
You could dissect their records for years to come but nothing would prepare you for the controlled frenzy and ecstatic bliss of their live shows. Those started out as, and remained being about two things: dancing and drinking. But it was always smarter than that. You suddenly discovered in the midst of your revelry, as you sang along with the entire building that they had parts built into their songs specifically for this purpose. When they’re on stage they become a conglomeration of parts that have only gotten bigger and better as the years have gone by. For all the deserved attention Murphy gets, Pat Mahoney, Tyler Pope, David Scott Stone and Nancy Whang are all world class musicians. Whether it was at the Sonar Festival in Barcelona singing “Yeah, yeah, yeah-yeah-yeah-yeah, yeah” with thousands of sweaty Europeans, packing into backyard venue Studio B for a hometown dance party, catching a 45 minute highlight reel at Chicago’s Lollapalooza (where in a surreal moment they became the opening act for Daft Punk) or this latest batch of finely tuned 3 hour retrospective shows, I’ve never left an LCD performance disappointed. Not only are they ridiculously fun and a moment you’ll share with your friends forever but they rank right up there with the very best in terms of execution and degree of difficulty. The untold secret is that over the years, LCD Soundsystem have become a very good band and that is part of what makes this past week so bittersweet. You can try to understand the logic of James not wanting to jump around a stage past the age of 40 or agree with the idea of quitting while you’re ahead and all the other avenues that lead you to accepting that it’s time for them to hang it up. But when someone is doing something you love and doing it better than ever it can be a bitter pill to swallow especially when you’ve been there from the beginning and watched them grow from a band that barely fills The Bowery Ballroom to one that sells out Madison Square Garden in less than an hour and has followed you from the Lower East Side into Brooklyn and will surely have a space on your speakers wherever you land when you leave Bushwick. But there is some consolation… All My Friends will still be played at weddings, birthdays and New Years Eve parties for years to come, maybe forever, who knows? I’m sure I’ll always think of my gone to soon friend Matteo, who was with me during my first epic LCD experience in Barcelona, when I hear the opening notes of Someone Great. And like great sports heroes that retire at the top of their game and leave a void in their absence, maybe there is no next LCD Soundsystem. Maybe this is it, and if it is they’ve made enough of an impression on music fans across the globe to rest in a well-earned place of honor on the shelves next to the names chronicled so lovingly on Losing My Edge and that has to make James Murphy smile, if only for a brief moment.