REVIEW: LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
Zach Hart Tuesday, May 18, 2010
LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening
Release Date: May 17th, 2010
A best of list—they have them for movies, books, television, and, yes, music. As the year comes to a close you find yourself standing in December with January on the horizon. During this period websites and magazines flood readers with the top fifties, the top tens, the top anything. Sifting through the deluge of twelve months of hype and noise people often skim pages looking for their own personal favorites (I know I do it all the time). When thinking back on some of the years past in music, many standout albums have come through your ears. However, one year in particular resonates with me and that is 2007. That year many exceptional bands came out with equally exceptional albums: Arcade Fire, Radiohead, The National, Animal Collective, Of Montreal, and LCD Soundsystem. Now here we are in 2010. The year is nearing its halfway mark and after three long years some bands are finally putting out new albums. If the trend continues then this year could most likely shape up to be another 2007. This Is Happening marks a release of enormous anticipation. Those of us who recognize the sheer magnitude of Sound of Silver’s impact are no doubt hoping that this third (and potentially final) effort lives up to the years of waiting.
When we last left LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy was slowly waltzing his way through “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down”. Gradually the song rose and fell with dramatic bursts but for an otherwise fast-paced dance album it washed over you calmly. “Dance Yrself Clean” is infused with those humble endings and opens in a way we wouldn’t expect from the dance-punk/rock auteur. With a slow build the track begins to deconstruct the notion of friends and associates and instead speaks of exclusion from mean friends and jerks. An immediate distancing—in this case dancing clean—from our notion of “Someone Great” and “All My Friends”. And with little hint of change the song kicks into familiar territory with an explosive synth line and a hard hitting beat. From here you are jerked by the collar into Murphy’s world of sweaty, dancing bodies heaving under strobe lights and chilling in smoky backrooms.
“Drunk Girls” might be the most experimental out of all the tracks because of its nature as a tightly woven attempt at a pop single. The terse song is easily accessible because of its quick nature especially when compared to the gargantuan length of other tracks. As a single to be dispersed on the radio the song works. Personally, however, I would have liked this song to have been given longer legs because the song itself lends itself to the frenetic dance-punk energy that is classic for the band. In that same vein is “One Touch” a song that feels like a spiritual successor to Sound of Silver’s grandiose opener “Get Innocuous” and is compacted with a few sexual overtones.
Though Murphy has always proven he is capable of creating thrilling tracks that can drive any soul to dance; I feel it is always that more emotionally focused side that makes LCD Soundsystem so great. “All I Want” and “I Can Change” deliver the emotional kick in the gut of This Is Happening. “Love is a murderer,” sings Murphy in a heartbreaking sentiment but then says “if she calls you tonight/everything is all right.” The same romantic takes over in “All I Want” where Murphy takes you by the hips and slow dances. The strength of these songs lies not only in their subdued beauty but also in one of the more integrated aspects of LCD Soundsystem: James Murphy’s voice. At times differentiating between the moniker of LCD Soundsystem and the man behind it can be a blurred line. The name you see on the album cover matches that pounding bass and electronic thrashing—it is actually quite a brilliant band name. In the end, though, this is Murphy’s baby and it always has been. Each album and each song is purely him. The emotions are real and they come through in those songs. Even though the man is having fun dancing around blasting your speakers he is still “just a guy” whose heart pumps with real feeling and molds them into his music. This is the kind of songwriting that turned “All My Friends” into the perfect song that it was. More so, Murphy’s vocals shine they never have before in this album. He puts everything on the table—and it is great.
This Is Happening rarely (if ever) misses a hit. Instead the album provides yet another blueprint for how pop/dance/dance-punk music should sound. It fuses elements from Murphy’s entire career so far and creates hit after hit. Listen to “Pow Pow” and try not to get into it. “Somebody’s Calling Me” plays near the end when all the sweat has been pumped out. It is a slow and paced tune yet you still want to snap your fingers and almost drunkenly sway your body. From beginning to end the album plays out like an entire night of some wild dance experience. Moments of rapturous movement turn into swaths of calm and occasional heartbreak. Sure you can pluck individual tracks for their own isolated listening sessions but this is one you are wanting to from start to finish.
And if all the talking is true this could be the last full length release we see from LCD Soundsystem and James Murphy. With that thought in mind “Home” closes the album and is sort of a swan song. Sentimentally this might be the best song on the album purely because of how purely it catches you. “Forget your past/this is your last chance now” we hear Murphy say almost eerily reflecting upon his career. “Still you should not forget/Yeah, don’t forget/The things that we laughed about.” As far as retrospectives go this song is an almost pained one reflecting on a wonderful career. The feeling that is left inside of me after listening to “Home” and hearing the album pop to a close is both a joy and sadness. It will suck (for a lack of a better term) if this is really the last big thing we hear out of LCD Soundsystem. Even so, this is exactly the way one wants to go out: completely on top and kicking ass. This is Happening. We can take a lot from that. The album has now dropped—this is happening. The album is brilliant—this is happening (to your ears). This might just be the last time—this is happening…Regardless of your intonation when saying those three words or how it hits you, you cannot deny that This Is Happening is here and it is an instant masterpiece.