Sound — 8
LCD Soundsystem is NYC-based band, founded by James Murphy, musician, singer, songwriter, producer and co-founder of DFA Records. Earlier the band released 3 studio albums, which are characterized by one of the most recognizable and innovative sounds in the '00s, a sophisticated and repeating mixture of endless new-wave/post-punk influences, electronic dance music, greatly produced percussions and sharp guitars. And LCD Soundsystem always amazes with the way the lyrics and the music are expressed, how simplicity hides complicacy - the music is minimalistic and decomposable into particular sounds, the words in the songs are pretty straightforward, but still it takes several attempts to realize, what you've been listening to. So, after the release of the third, "final" album and after continuous pause, the band is back with the forth studio album - "american dream".
Seven years have passed since the release of "This Is Happening", and on the fourth album LCD Soundsystem is a lot different. "american dream" is the album, on which James Murphy takes the risks and goes to extremes. This record sounds like none of the previous ones. First of all, the most evident difference, which rivets from the very first track "oh baby", is that the sound got dimension, smooth or kaleidoscopic background, filled with '80s-/Eno-influenced synths. As a result, music isn't as flat and skeletal as it has always been. Yet there're still examples of typical sharp dance music.
Moreover, on the album we can hear weaker production than on the other albums. LCD Soundsystem are famous for their ability to record music so clearly, that you can recognize every single drum-kick or bassline. On "american dream" we can find several examples ("call the police", "emotional haircut"), when the drum or guitar parts are blended, or the music totally disharmonizes, like on the track "other voices". But at the same time some of the tracks are so minimalistic, that we can still recognize this typical recording style.
In fact, sometimes the changes are radical. We can hear trembling and anxious violins on "how do you sleep?", the most post-punk-like song ever recorded by the band - "emotional haircut", ambient and thick sound, which seems like to be taken from the second part of Bowie's "Low", on "black screen", and the piano part in the end of this track, which sounds the same way as it was recorded on Bowie's "Hunky Dory". We should remember that this track is dedicated to Bowie, and that's why these references emphasize the skill of Murphy as a producer.
"american dream" is provided with one of the best vocal performances by Murphy, when he sings, of course, though there're still moments, when he just speaks the way we're used to listen to. But his singing is really emotional, being smooth and careful. This way of performance can be explained with the fact, that the entire album is dominated with gloomy and even depressing tracks. On "american dream" LCD Soundsystem is as dark as the band has never been before. And it is certain level of risk, because the band's sound has never been so frankly dark ("i used to", "black screen", "oh baby", "how do you sleep?" and others). And also the material on the record is more structured, more layered, the songs evolve and develop, making it easier and more conventional to take it.
Lyrics — 6
The lyrics on "american dream" have their highs and lows. Of course, there're topics, which were sung about on the previous albums. And it refers especially to the topic of aging (we should remember, that James Murphy started this project, when he was already in his thirties, and that allowed him appeal to his age and experience from the very first self-titled album). There's also a place for critique of pop-culture and pop-songs on the track "tonite", which is very creative, because he melts both his age and critique, using one topic for another (in this track listeners are asked by Murphy not to believe typical pop-song messages of living life tonight, though the awareness of this thought comes only with age). The lyrics are full of fatigue, emaciation, hopelessness, and they're still sincere and intimate. They may be not deep, but, combining with the music, they create the whole image.
And the highs of this record are two tracks, which lyrics are connected with the friendship and close relationship. They are "how do you sleep?" and "black screen". They're the darkest and the most devastating songs on "american dream", and, it's even symbolic that they're the most long-running on the album (9 and 12 minutes). In the first song Murphy addresses to his friend, one of the co-founders of DFA Records, who left NYC for UK. And in fact, the song is pretty simple, but Murphy involves such phrases, like "I can't hear you anymore", "I still remember laughing and fighting", which express deep emotional bond between Murphy and that person, though Murphy finishes the song on very bitter and cruel moment. The track is extremely touching, if you know the context. The second one is dedicated to David Bowie, with whom Murphy worked on his last studio album "Blackstar", thanks to whom we have a chance to listen to the new material from LCD Soundsystem. This track describes Murphy's feelings to Bowie, "father and friend", their relationships, it's introspective and tearful. The beautiful metaphor of space as a black screen may be a reference to the title of Bowie's last record, and is connected with cosmic topics, which are the most important part of Bowie's legacy - "You could be anywhere on the black screen".
Overall Impression — 7
So, "American dream" shows us new LCD Soundsystem. The band explores new sounds, new structures, and new influences, trying to create music within the borders of its own recognizable style. But, unfortunately, these never-ending leaps from new sound to the older one bother a lot - you just can't concentrate on one stylistic, when you have to dive into another one. The band took the risks and tried to deal with them successfully. In fact, the most uninteresting songs on the album sound like the older stuff, because these tracks are ground out. But the new tendencies are greatly combined and sound refreshingly.
We can't say that James Murphy is totally different on "American dream". No, he still has problems and shows them, he's still self-deprecating, but he's getting older, and all these problems are taken as they're on the other level of awareness. That's the key point that defined the sound of the album.
"American dream" isn't the best LCD Soundsystem's project, it's decent and kind of enjoyable, but it contains the most accessible material from the band, and it would be a great starting point for the people, who has never heard this band before.