Review: American Dream

If you were able to catch LCD Soundsystem on their whirlwind of a 2016 festival circuit, you might have witnessed a similar scene to what follows:

A sea of people—most of whom are a little older than the typical festival crowd—wait and watch a dark stage with anticipation. A faint movement of bodies backstage can be made out from the distance and some muffled cheers can be heard from the patrons in the front of the crowd. Suddenly, an iconic, machine-like drumbeat starts up from a kit sitting stage-left that slowly becomes lit by a single beam of light. It is unmistakably Pat Mahoney, the funkadelic human metronome. Then, a staccato bass line starts playing on the upbeats, followed by a rhythmic scratch from a muted guitar. Nancy Whang cooly walks up to her Moog machine and warms up the vacuum tubes with some sharp, oscillating synth stabs. The crowd is already starting to move and groove for they know what time it is. 

A silhouette of a loosely suited man with disheveled hair walks out on to the stage and takes his place behind the microphone.  “The time has come, the time has come, the time has come today,” he chants with the band behind him in chorus. You can barely hear their vocals over the sound of the crowd singing along in unison. Again, they sing the introductory verse, followed by a bit of long-awaited cowbell. The song builds and crescendos behind a searing rhythm guitar, and all this disguises the fact that a giant disco ball is secretly lowering from the rigging above the stage.

At the climax, all the stage lights turn inwards to ignite the disco ball into a massive spinning orb of pure white rays fit for a quasar. The time has come. The crowd erupts into a frenzy. The night is upon them, the mood is right, the drugs are working, and all their friends are there tonight. LCD Soundsystem is back from the dead after 5 long years.

If the freedom to soak up a moment like that doesn’t at least partially embody somebody’s American dream, I don’t know what does. Luckily, the band had enough gas in the tank after their festival run to give us their own take on that nation-defining idea with the aptly titled, American Dream. And if you’re a fan of James and the crew, it is a dream indeed.

Whether you’re looking for the groovy disco infiltrators that made “Dance Yrself Clean” and “Get Innocuous,” or the emotional navel gazers from “New York I Love You” and “Someone Great,” you wont be disappointed by what James Murphy has declared as his favorite record in the band’s catalog. The album starts on the softer side of the spectrum with “oh baby,” a lament that is just cryptic enough in its message and tone to apply to anyone experiencing a little sadness. There is no driving drum groove, there is no sharp guitar, there is only a crooning James Murphy, a little bit of a high-hat, and some deep, layered synthesizer. The mood is somber but hopeful.

That hope is quickly realized with the next track, “other voices.” The doldrums are gone (for now) and the patented cowbell and woodblocks make their return in a dance hall ditty that could have easily fit on This is Happening. But don’t be fooled into thinking the rest of the album is going to echo their previous work. This is simply not the case.

Lyrically, Mr. Murphy ventures into some of the most introspective spaces he’s ever been. Whether he’s speaking anecdotally or observing trends in American culture, some of the subject-matter weighs a little on the heavy side. If the thesis behind the album can be summed up by the lyrics from “change yr mind” that claim, “I’ve just got nothing left to say / I’m in no place to get it right,” then that song and the album as a whole quickly disproves itself. Songs like “american dream” and “change yr mind” tackle subjects like self-doubt, depression, and mental health in an age where Americans are becoming far more isolated emotionally, while also (as the song “tonite” points out) becoming more connected than ever digitally. Murphy’s tongue is planted firmly in his cheek as he pokes fun at a generation of social media influencers that rely on showcasing the versions of themselves that “[they] thought were the best ones,” while listening to hedonistic pop songs that are all about “touch me touch me touch me tonight.”

But instant gratification is something that LCD Soundsystem has never thought to execute in exchange for chart position. Waiting is half the fun. This becomes evident on another standout track. Their 9 minute jam into the aether titled, “how do you sleep?” is a titan of a song that begs to be spun on a turntable in a foggy room. The song starts with a single reverberated floor tom that thumps in support of James’s vocals, eventually giving way to a spacey arpeggiator that takes the song from the headset to the dance floor. It’s a full 5 minutes before a snare and cymbal crash even make their appearance on the track, but when they do, it’s impossible to sit still. “how do you sleep?” is another piece of the puzzle that starts in a very new place for the band but eventually pays homage to the synth-laden stylings that make their sound undeniably LCD.

If much of their previous work is about the trials and tribulations of growing up, trying to stay hip, and do it all while aspiring to be successful, then American Dream is an observation from that already elevated status. Murphy & Co. seem to be looking back with a glimmer in their eyes at their successes while also carrying a new weight on their shoulders; keeping their American dream alive while also keeping their fans happy (who at this point are probably going through similar struggles of their own).

The band and its frontman are undoubtedly getting older and it’s hard to say whether or not American Dream is a swan song. But it is definitely an affirmation of the difficulties involved with staying afloat in a band that was lauded for being revivalists and innovators all at once. Acknowledging this notion and listening to LCD Soundsystem’s 2017 masterwork will likely make any existing fan an even bigger one. American Dream is arguably their best record to date and catches the group at the top of their game; hopefully not at the end of it.


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