When I was in high school, I was perplexed by a trend I saw in adults’ listening habits. While I was gobbling up just about any record I could get my hands on, old folks seemed to be perfectly content with a small assortment of artists or albums. When you’re 17, every new album feels like a breakthrough, a mind-blowing horizon expansion in your eardrums. How could anyone not buy the new album by [insert critically-hyped up-and-comer here]?
I don’t think I truly understood this phenomenon until I sold all of my White Stripes records. I used to adore that band. There was a time when De Stijl would have been in the “Top 10 Albums of All Time” list in my head. But via the White Stripes, I discovered the Black Keys. I found out about Chicago blues artists like Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Magic Sam and Buddy Guy. I bought my first Stooges record (Fun House) because of the White Stripes.
After all that, I didn’t need the White Stripes anymore. Everything I loved about them was available in purer form. They were rendered redundant by their predecessors. When you have The Velvet Underground and Modern Lovers, you wonder why anyone really cared about The Strokes to begin with. Will Black Rebel Motorcycle Club ever outdo The Jesus and Mary Chain? Probably not.
This feeling of redundancy has started to plague most new music I hear, and I only passionately dig a handful of artists that formed post-2000. St. Vincent is one of them. Art Brut are great. I love Gorillaz, but mostly because I’m jonesing for a new Blur album. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fujiya & Miyagi and Arcade Fire are hit-or-miss. Cut Copy and Vivian Girls are pretty good.
But LCD Soundsystem? LCD are bloody fantastic.
I’m not sure what it is about a new LCD Soundsystem album that impresses me almost as much as the first time I heard the Talking Heads’ Remain In Light. They certainly aren’t immune to the same criticisms I cast upon their peers. In their music, you can hear pieces of the Talking Heads, Lou Reed, Daft Punk, The Stranglers, The Executive Slacks, The Fall, James Chance and the Contortions, David Bowie and many others. Yet somehow, it feels like its own sentient entity.
It could be that the man behind the moniker, James Murphy, has simply combined elements of dance and house music with punk and synth-pop in a novel way, but this assessment is overly clinical at best. Regardless of what musical genres LCD Soundsystem bends or twists, the key ingredient for this band remains a hardy, consistent sense of earnest authenticity.
The compositions are created without the aid of modern computers or software. The lyrics aren’t written until the day the song’s recorded. The shows are played without click tracks or samples. Any element that would distance the listener from the process of creation has been removed or minimized. Any American Idol contestant can sing and be enjoyed. It’s another quality altogether to be believable. The former is the key to radio superstardom, the latter to relevance and impact.
LCD’s show at the Roseland on May 29 was the third time I’d seen them play. The first was in 2005 at the Wonder Ballroom, an infamous show nearly derailed by overzealous PlayStation sponsorship (and exacerbated by the resultantly miffed Portland hipsters). The second was at Coachella in 2007 amidst a sea of inebriated club kids and ravers. Last week, I finally saw them perform a show without any such caveats and found myself overwhelmed by their energy, evocation and honesty.
Maybe I am becoming that cranky old man complaining about the kids and their new-fangled rock-and-roll music. Maybe I need to think about trading in my LiLiPUT and Lizzy Mercier Descloux albums for the standard-issue No Jacket Required and an Eagles compilation.
But then I hear LCD play, and all of that goes out the window.