Thursday, June 24, 2010

LCD Soundsystem- This Is Happening

During the first three minutes of This Is Happening, you will wonder if this is going to be a very different album than Sound Of Silver. Over a minimalist-even-by-Liquid-Liquid's-standards set of percussion and the sloth-like repetition of a piano chord, James Murphy complains about people walking up to him at parties, “present company excepted.” The production is dry and muted, sounding as if someone stuffed cotton into your ears. But then the song comes to life: the beats get harder and funkier, the piano blooms into an insistent synth loop, and Murphy puts some oomph into the lyrics, dropping lines like “just go and throw your little hands out.” Ah, so this is the follow up to Sound Of Silver! The song grooves along until, at, 5:55, it recedes back to the stripped down sound before a sneaky return to the full blooded stuff at 6:35. “Break me into bigger pieces”, Murphy insists in a style/voice reminiscent of David Byrne or perhaps Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer.' For a final time, the song goes to the minimalist style at 8:12 and fades to an undistinguished ending.

This Is Happening's spirit is contained in that first track. To wit: interesting new ideas surrounded by long stretches of been-there, done-that, but-still-enjoyable grooves. and as a whole this album plays like a looser, sloppier, and jammier version of Sound Of Silver. Where that album had an emotional resonance and tight run time, with few extraneous sections that felt like dance breaks, This Is Happening is equal parts promising new directions and warmed over, extended takes on Silver sounds with emphasis on building and riding grooves to the horizon. 'One Touch' is a dance punk throwdown that recalls !!! at their funkiest, while 'Pow Pow' sails on a Talking Heads white boy afro-funk sea, during which Murphy speak-sings about New York City ennui, celebrity, art, etc. 'All I Want' nips the guitar sound whole cloth from the title track of Brian Eno's Here Come The Warm Jets while Murphy declares “all I want is your pity” over and over, eventually begging “take me home” in an exhausted croon that is like an echo of the “take me out tonight” plea from 'There Is A Light That Never Goes Out' by the Smiths.

The dichotomy between Murphy's persona as a trendsetter hipster out at high falutin' parties and art happenings versus the introspective romantic who just wants to be alone, or anyway, alone with a chick, is the point around which this album, lyrically and musically, rotates. Since he has mentioned in the press that this may be his last album as LCD Soundsystem, this might help explain why This Is Happening feels conflicted and at odds with itself. Ultimately this means that as a danceable, fun party album, This Is Happening is an unqualified success. As a 'listen at home and dig the lyrics and tunes' album, it is less so.

Once you've made peace with the fact that this album is closer in sonics than intent or results to Sound Of Silver, it's easier to pick at what exactly does and doesn't work about it. Sure, I like the danceable songs as much as anyone, but it's the unexpected moments of new musical territory and emotional clarity that make this album one of the year's most uneven and flawed but still rewarding and enjoyable releases. The aforementioned minimalist sections of the opener, 'Dance Yrself Clean,' are exciting and interesting precisely because they're unexpected. Sound Of Silver was such a brilliant album because it ably combined and fused these more (for lack of a better term) experimental and rock-y elements with funky/groovy/danceable stuff. This Is Happening, meanwhile, seems content to keep the two apart, whether it's in separate songs or sections of songs. This means if you're listening to it as a segment of the background music at a party or for straight up dancing, you'll skip over a couple songs; if you're listening to it with your full attention like any good studious music fan will, you'll have to wait for mouthfuls of arty meat between the groovy fun sugary stuff. The closest this album comes to a happy medium is the strident 'Drunk Girls', which feels out of place and is a throwaway of a post-punk pseudo-anthem, and 'Somebody's Calling Me', which is an annoying crawl through shrill synthesizer stabs and awful vocals set to plodding bass and drums. As with Animal Collective's grating wah-wah vocal piece, 'Whaddit I Done', I kind of hate it, but I also kind of love it.

Since two of this album's chiefest flaws are also its long song lengths and overall run time, if 'Drunk Girls' and 'Somebody's Calling Me' had been left on the cutting room floor, This Is Happening would be a more appealing and enjoyable listen. Yet its uneven split between new directions and warmed over echoes of past grooves is still, well, uneven, and not half as good as Sound Of Silver. But in all fairness, if it's taken on its own merits, This Is Happening is a solid album that isn't as cohesive as I'd like, and works far better as a 'dancey party-time' album than 'a headphones and eyes closed on the couch' listen. We know for sure he can do the former. The question, at least to me, is whether he can fully do the latter, as LCD Soundsystem or otherwise.

4 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5

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