LCD Soundsystem Are Back

THERE’S A SONG on Daft Punk’s oft-underrated debut called “Teachers.” In it, the two producers, who hadn’t even put on their famous helmets yet, list off a huge list of other dance producers they’ve collaborated with or were otherwise inspired by. Romanthony and Dr Dre get shoutouts. It’s one of the catchiest songs on that album.

What’s slightly remarkable about LCD Soundsystem is that not only did they arrive on the scene pretty much fully-formed, but that their first single, and easily one of their best, encapsulated the dance movements of the mid-2000’s/early 2010’s perhaps even better than Daft Punk themselves.

In 2002, they released “Losing My Edge.” It has a maddeningly simple drum track, instrumentals taken as much from krautrock as from the dancehalls of the 1990’s, starting with some rough feedback before shifting into a regular beat. Its lyrics came from Murphy’s own experiences as a DJ, and how the changing tastes of that scene slowly distanced him from it.

“I’m losing my edge to the kids from France / And from London.” Fourteen years later, David Guetta pulls in yearly crowds in the millions. Mark Ronson, a New Yorker transplanted from London in his youth, produced one of the last year’s most enduring hits.

But LCD Soundsystem were there. Like “Teachers,” the finale of the eight-minute track is another list of Every Good Group Murphy can think of that inspired the sound of his band, (“The Swans, The Soft Cell, The Sonics, The Sonics The Sonics” ) and the sound that he’d help foster into a movement with DFA Records. Rock and roll bands and dance music tastemakers alike. Three years later, they released the single that would push them further into the mainstream, “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House”.

“Losing My Edge” was both a knowing callback and correctly predicted the muddling of genre in the pop music of the millennium. But what no one could have predicted, not even the members of the band themselves, was that a group who had chosen their own ending, their own way so emphatically, would decide to come back.

I got into LCD Soundsystem late. Comically late, actually; by the time I’d absorbed their three studio albums, released over five years between 2005 and 2010, they had already played the show at Madison Square Garden that sold out in minutes and must now be forever referred to as their “final show” in airquotes. Aziz Ansari crowdsurfed. Frontman James Murphy’s brother was there. Arcade Fire’s Win Butler showed up for some accompaniment, and interrupts a heartfelt monologue to the audience with the words “Shut up and play the hits!”

That concert, and the film made about the production, Shut Up and Play The Hits, felt like an ending. A real, definitive ending for a legendary band that few legendary bands get to have. As much as every fan wanted it to be wrong, it felt right.

And then.

On Christmas Eve, it’s a track that belongs a little over halfway into their evolution as a band, beginning with only a piano and Murphy’s dour lyrics (he described the track as “a depressing christmas song i’d been singing to myself for the past 8 years”) and building into the kind of loud, full ending straight from their middle record, Sound of Silver.  A lot of their back catalogue is marked by songs like this, a range of emotion and honesty on offer to rival the new wave and post-rock of the ’80s, to which LCD Soundsystem owe a certain debt.

Murphy was 35 when their eponymous first album was released. In a lengthy Facebook post Murphy noted his relief that when the band began he was already (in his words) fat and old, so there was no way people could compare pictures of him now to back then, and comment on how much worse he may look. No Rolling Stones side-by-side here. 

He responds to the response, remarking that he had barely thought about people feeling betrayed by their return, new tours and new albums going against everything their last gig, and the vinyl anthology The Long Goodbye released after it, stood for. An ending.

Surely, though, this perspective just proves the point they were making, all that time ago? That deifying certain bands over others, preserving a part of music history and placing it above all others instead of building something on what they made, is a bad idea?

To that end, Murphy also mentions his pride in the rest of the band, and their endeavours since the show at Madison Square Garden; Hot Chip member Al Doyle, Pat Mahoney and Nancy Whang, the latter finding success in the intervening years as a member of The Juan Maclean, are all back for the reunion.

The post shows how weird, but good, it felt to Murphy to bring back old friends to bring more music to the world, lest it sit in his head unrecorded forever. Who are we to deny them that?

The back catalogue of LCD Soundsystem is neat, rich, relatable, and about to get bigger. Now, in the eyes of many of their fans, still in disbelief that This Is Happening, it’s high time for a rexamination.