LCD Soundsystem has always been DFA honcho James Murphy’s cult of personality, but listening to his music is more of a window into what he likes than what he is like. The band’s self-titled debut in 2005 felt like a well-compiled mixtape, chosen with a distinct sensibility but full of favorite artist emulations that hardly sounded like they came from the same recording session. The follow-up, while still filled with tasteful homage and sarcastic bile, manages a thematically linked and dance-floor appropriate meditation on aging not quite gracefully. As a cohesive album and a personal statement, Sound of Silver is superior in most every way.
“Get Innocuous” immediately signals that these songs aren’t going to be one-note imitations. It starts with a “Losing My Edge”-like beat (that they nearly gave to Britney), but it slowly transitions into the main refrain from Kraftwerk’s “The Robots,” only to be quickly superseded by single-note keyboard stabs. The joy is in the construction. Pieces fall back and reemerge to suit the also-alternating multi-tracked deadpans or grand Bowie in Berlin tones that Murphy employs. It’s not until “North American Scum” that the nasal, acid-tongued vocals make their proper debut. It’s not really a condemnation nor a defense of anti-American sentiment; Murphy merely posits that New Yorkers are exempt from contempt. This sort of danceable rock music is rarely handled with such humor and effortless skill.
The bar is raised higher still by “Someone Great,” which manages — gasp — emotional sincerity. Built on a gorgeous, chiming synth portion of last year’s 45:33 (the mix he did for Nike), the song frankly details the death of a creative partnership with devastation usually reserved for a failed romance. Murphy’s disbelief that things around him can continue on normally while he is so affected is his finest lyrical moment to date. The song’s flipside is “All My Friends,” which stumbles forward on a wild piano loop, leaving new-wave keys and New Order guitar lines to subliminal background. Again we get a glimpse of Murphy the man, a full-fledged adult who’s been around long enough to know that life’s too short to spend with people whom you don’t legitimately care for. His neat turns of phrase are all the more effective because the vocal delivery remains unaffected, with no jokey mugging. The subsequent trio can’t compare to these three, but the only straight-up letdown is the one-joke title track.
It ends in the goofy pre-Giuliani-era lament, “New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down.” Though swiping the barroom piano, stuttering beat and build to a climax from Ziggy Stardust‘s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide,” the song hilariously inverts its inclusive message to remind you that, oh yes, love, you are alone. Coming after disses to the cops, Mayor Bloomberg, and your mom, this misanthropy reveals an aging grump set in his preferences and unlikely to change. Luckily, his taste lives up to its reputation.