In 2011, New York natives LCD Soundsystem played their “final ever” show, in their own backyard at Madison Square Garden. It was described by many in attendance as a transcendental experience, and meant fans of the band could forgive James Murphy for sending the group their separate ways. Not that there was any need to apologise, after a brief but stellar stint, comprising consistently intelligent albums and euphoric concerts, but with the band’s return to the stage just a few years later, Murphy found himself in the strange position of now needing to say “sorry” for reforming LCD Soundsystem.
If fans were able to come to peace with the band disbanding after witnessing that ‘final’ gig, then American Dream should be just as sufficient of an apology for returning. LCD Soundsystem’s fourth studio LP is, so to speak, a “proper album” – to be listened to start to finish, in an age in which the digitisation of music has led to impatience amongst listeners. Such impatience cannot be found within the songs on American Dream, with their extended running times, and – largely – static instrumentation. That is to say some tracks go several minutes with minimal progression, the hypnotic music serving almost as a vessel for Murphy’s engrossing lyrics and venting soliloquies.
As is exhibited all throughout this record, James Murphy’s song-writing is as distinguished as ever
The album begins with the twitching keys of ‘oh baby’, before buzzing bass and ethereal synth join the mix, the latter perfectly complimenting the dreamlike atmosphere established lyrically. The danceable ‘other voices’ follows, and demonstrates Murphy’s ability to achieve accessibility whilst maintaining a deeper level of musical construction; here, syncopated percussion ensures not to detract from the song’s pulsating pop core. Album highlight ‘i used to’ sees the rhythm section march through the track’s delightfully dirge tone, whilst Murphy mentions “talking tough, but on suburban lawns in prone positions” – a possible comment on the futility of social media politics.
‘how do you sleep?’ acts as the album’s centrepiece, a nine-minute slow burner that never truly becomes incendiary, although this proves a decision that’s testament to Murphy’s impressive song-writing instincts; after layering up, the track doesn’t erupt but rightfully sits into a colourful disco groove in its third act. The pace then picks up somewhat as lead single ‘tonite’ arrives. It’s classic LCD Soundsystem, containing perhaps the most impressive lyrics on American Dream, most notably an impossibly accurate depiction of millennial social media personas. Elsewhere on the track, Murphy comments on the insipid, uninspired state of contemporary pop music: “everybody’s singing the same song, it goes ‘tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight, tonight’”.
Fellow single ‘call the police’ sees LCD Soundsystem at their rowdiest on this record, as well as their closest here to breakneck speed – it’s difficult not to be swept along by the song’s momentum. Murphy then slows the tempo, however, as the album’s title track drifts along to a depressing deconstruction of the personal demons that thwart the American Dream for many in the U.S. today. Finally, the album closes with the epitome of the patience displayed on this record: the twelve-minute long ‘black screen’, on which Murphy sings of his awe-inspired anxiety at collaborating with his hero David Bowie, both on the icon’s parting album Blackstar and Arcade Fire’s 2013 release Reflektor, produced by Murphy.
Whilst this makes for a somewhat bleak-sounding ending to the album, that bleakness extends no further than an intentional tone. As is exhibited all throughout this record, James Murphy’s song-writing is as distinguished as ever. American Dream has been described by some as a return to form, but really, it’s no more than a return; their form – class, rather – has never been in question.