For the uninitiated, it will probably seem bizarre to obsess over a band that only put out three albums and didn’t last for an entire decade. But for those who listened to James Murphy’s midlife crisis turned into a Madison Square Garden-filling band, LCD Soundsystem not only helped to note where The Scene had come from and was turning into at the turn of the century, they helped to define it as well. LCD Soundsystem became fine to obsess over since they were the creative fuel spilling from an obsessive, and their chameleonic way of jamming multiple influences of Murphy’s into their tracks became as close as they got to a signature sound.
They were helped out by circumstances beyond their control, as they rose to prominence in a time that also coincided nicely with the rise and eventual ubiquity of a certain company’s small squares and rectangles as well as the increasing ease and spread of music-sharing websites without the plodding march of dial-up download rates. In the same way Murphy was able to take his personal experiences and create something enjoyed by many, his band was able to take the opening strands of the 21st century’s zeitgeist and weave a taut narrative thread that could easily go from self-pity to self-amusement, punk to funk, and a few dozen other bipolarities without missing a trick.
Note that this isn’t the definitive LCD Soundsystem—many would argue that the likes of “Disco Infiltrator,” “Give It Up,” “Home,” “Sound of Silver” and/or “Time To Get Away” should be on the field rather than looking on from the bench—but since you wanted a hit, let’s give you 11 of the best LCD Soundsystem songs.
69:51 – LCD Soundsystem’s Greatest Hits
How do you reconcile the bizarre cousin of schadenfreude you feel when you being you offends the people that you want to offend anyway? If you’re former President Bush the Younger, you paint; if you’re Murphy, your response to other people’s responses to the failed foreign policy of the former doesn’t keep you from harmonizing and turning that sort of red-letter A into a hell-yeah-fuckin’-A-right badge of dishonor while knowing that the cops will soon bust up this party as opposed to what would happen in Spain or Berlin. Disgusting the right people, and the party, are almost always worth the endeavor.
As we all know by now, the easiest way to be cool besides trying an incremental amount to notify people of the warehouses of awesome that you possess except you don’t care and you don’t want to look so, you know, needy or whatever is to deliver an awesome band in a small space; Murphy’s dance punk fever dream of putting the French DJing duo in an enclave and throwing the alpha and omega of house parties with jocks excluded and neighbors helpless to stop da funk put the band on the map in such a big way a Grammy nomination would come out of it.
“Tribulations” (4:59) [15:42] from LCD Soundsystem (2005; DFA)
Like the recriminations the song is built around, the music here Mobius stripped itself in a loop while Murphy sings with a full heart of wry recrimination clearly directed at somebody (muse? lover? ex? producer? friend? himself? all of the above?) about the kind of screw-ups that seem to keep on sticking, and the way that the worst mistakes can haunt the soul like a ghost. Why put yourself through that torture? Why stick around a place you’re too old for? To quote the man itself, “it feels all right as long as something’s happening.” And that possibility will almost always get you up and into the outside world in the hopes that it’ll beat staring at a monitor alone in your domicile.
“You Can’t Hide (Shame On You)” (7:31) [23:13] from 45:33 (2006; Nike/DFA/Emi)
It was almost an odd throwaway of two songs staple-gunned together on the LCD Soundsystem album that wasn’t, better known for James having tricked Nike into letting him do his Manuel Göttsching impersonation. This track has nothing to do with just doing it (jogging) but more about what happens sometimes after it’s just been done (horizontal jogging): the few lyrics are mostly the title, and only go towards setting up the black punchline that maybe someone who loves you can be concealing something if not themselves from you, and the loneliness that can result. BONUS: Reggie Watts’ crazed singing turned rap at their last concert over this outro is worth watching Shut Up and Play the Hits all on its own, presaging his run as the current musical director of the latest iteration of the Late Late Show.
“Someone Great” (6:26) [29:39] from Sound of Silver (2007; DFA/Capitol)
Here’s a “fun” thing they don’t tell you about adulthood: sometimes you love somebody and, once they break up with you, your sense of order implodes and your sense of dislocation expands, occasionally swallowing some unlucky people whole. But in his own personal “The Winner Takes It All,” Murphy leaves all the recrimination as far behind him as he can get it and laser-focuses in on the music that might’ve caused the split in the first place. When he keeps repeating “And it keeps coming and it keeps coming,” he’s referring to the whole panoply: the songs to be finished, the time and planning for a probable tour, the shared little moments and the arguments. Even when a friendship’s been reached by the song’s conclusion to the point where the ex meets his wife, he focuses in on the tiny safe spot that it creates knowing that some wounds don’t heal; they just close.
“New York, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down” (5:36) [35:15] from Sound of Silver (2007; DFA/Capitol)
For a great deal of the LCD fanbase, this is the Mariano Rivera: It supersedes mere position and talent to being the closer. There’s plenty of evidence that Murphy either believes the same or knows enough people who do to give it the curtain call not only on their second critically acclaimed album but make it the last song they’ve ever performed to date at their final ’11 MSG Show. Like personal hero Lou Reed, a lot of Murphy’s work seemed to be an endless Dear John set to music about the abusive relationship he was in with the Big Apple that he still loved so much he couldn’t quite bring himself to shut the door behind him. It’s love if you put in direct order exasperation like “Like a death of the heart/Jesus, where do I start?” and follow it with ultimate devotion like “But you’re still the one pool where I’d happily drown.” It’s not a perfect day by any means—the jibes at then-Mayor Bloomberg show that—but it’s still a good one spent with the endless muse that seduced Murphy even when he was growing up in the nearby Jersey suburbs and has kept him forever despite all her flaws.
On the last album of their trilogy, this is preceded by “All I Want.” If you believe that’s coincidental, the cubicle is cutting off the flow to your brain. At the song’s outset, even a fight can’t dim the love on display and the hope is to never change. But by the next chorus, love is a murderer and the victim is the stasis that causes the rest of the song’s choruses to be the title so long as they remain in love. After all, books of bad poetry to be wanly joked about or not, this right here is the Biggest of all possible Casinos, and as an old film put it, either you get married and become a statistic or stay single and wind up talking to bartenders. Is the immolation of part of the self worth generating a phoenix of we, and if you do is it sustainable? That question may be unanswerable. But the willingness to do it — that signifies something worth noting.
“Losing My Edge” (7:53) [49:09] (2002; DFA)
He went on to do bigger and better tracks from here, but nothing better exemplifies the voice LCD gave to many of their then-fellow voiceless than their first single as the advances of age doom an audiophile to further and further obscurity, and the worst part about the more talented, better-looking cool kids coming up behind him on the decks? “They’re actually…really, really nice.” Making fun of a scene he’s too addicted to quit and propelled by a combination of Kraftwerkian electronica and funk, the namedrop binge at the end was just the exclamation point on a hilarious, cringe-worthy mini-memoir that was such a sounding of the conch to fellow Rob Flemings that it got the prime “track one on the second side” slot on the debut. It was a sign of things to come proving that this paranoia was unfounded; Murphy may have lost his edge when it came to DJing for the Brooklyn crowds, but he’d replace his setlists with a more fully operational Soundsystem that has its origins here.
“Drunk Girls” (3:42) [52:51] from This Is Happening (2010; DFA/Virgin/Parlorphone)
In the same way people focused in on the harmonizing in “Semi-Charmed Life” instead of the smack-shooting and cunnilingus, in the same way people heard a pre-“Dirrty” ex-Disney girl’s heart saying no over her body saying let’s go, people shot down this song unheard and jumped directly to pearl clutching over the title itself. If they never came back, it’s their loss: as great as the analogy of love being akin to an astronaut who returns to Earth never to be the same, the eight lines that follow on the other side of that are the best the discography has to offer culminating not only in the indictment of the title characters but the ones who chase them and can be just as insane, capricious, and too focused on the bevy of options to pick and stick with a direction, a bunch that believe in waking up together but no promises. It’s almost as Murphy could see the future and chose to swipe right at it, tossing out this jibe on his way away from it.
“Dance Yourself Clean” (8:58) [61:49] from This Is Happening (2010; DFA/Virgin/Parlorphone)
Maybe we should’ve seen his Jim Brown moment coming, after all, in this song he admits on the precipice of 40 that “everybody’s getting younger — it’s the end of an era, it’s true.” Before, it would’ve lead to the sort of argument that fueled the split in “Someone Great” or the discographic panic attack that caused “Losing My Edge.” Now? He’s fine in a basement with a cold glow, and is fine noting the argument while still throwing his little hands up at it. But even on his way out the door, there’s still one more party and one last night of wiggling to get out of it in the hopes of purification, borderline impossible as it seems.
“All My Friends” (7:37) [69:26] from Sound of Silver (2007; DFA/Capitol)
Other songs of theirs might have better lyrics. Other songs of theirs might be catchier tunes. Other songs of theirs might be more critically acclaimed, and on that note you really want to hang on to that final might. But all of that’s fine. This is merely the LCD Soundsystem song, the best possible representative of the band’s ethos and a nearly eight-minute long justification of their existence. It’s almost a darkest timeline “Losing My Edge” with the traces of humor absent to the point where it nearly clocks in at the exact same length, covering the perpetual fear of wondering where one ranks in the scene, the awkwardness of aging, the 21st century attempt to control fate known as the five-year plan, and the always perpetual possibility that all the “I did it! FUCK!” fun you’re cramming in now can turn into “…I did it. …fuck.” on the skip of the needle — the very real possibility that this could be the last time and the this isn’t happening and that that this is you, crying out for companionship with the plaintive wail of “If I could see all my friends tonight,” which will probably go unanswered. Even in the best moments, instinct looks for other people to confirm it like a pay window…that is, to say that this is great and this is (actually) happening.
The best LCD lyrics did it: reflecting both sides of the coin, a lot of times in the same song and sometimes in the same line — the compulsion/repulsion of nightlife and sometimes alternating feelings of being bulletproof with the feeling that the much younger everybody you’re surrounded by is looking at you like you’re the first person to survive the fiery rebirth of Carousel. Murphy fretted the day after he pulled the plug that the failure that’d define his band was the fact he’d just terminated it; out of all the accomplishments for them to be remembered by, this is the biggest of them all.
You might also like:
Butch Rosser is a frequent writer, part-time DJ and full-time audiophile. In addition to his Treble contributions, he is currently at work on his first novel, The One Man Jihad. He lives with his fiancee and her cat.