From LCD Soundsystem’s foil-wrapped spaceship comes the experimental Sound of Silver.
James Murphy's music works like a reverse prism, taking in all the songs he's ever loved and emitting a single beam that manages to be utterly his own. In that sense, Murphy is an emblematic figure for this recombinant era; when the next generation's pop historians try to pinpoint what this decade sounded like, here's betting the New Yorker's two solo records (as LCD Soundsystem) and his production and remix work with Tim Goldsworthy (as the DFA) will figure prominently in their assessment. In the absence of any real visionaries, the cultural centrality of a nearly middle-aged record collector/rocker might point to an ebb in the musical continuum, but that hardly dulls the pleasures evoked by Murphy's restlessly energetic tunes.
The producer records all his solo songs at Longview Farms in North Brookfield, Massachusetts, a classic American small town whose inhabitants, Murphy admits, often do a double take when they see him–not because he's famous, but because of his strange attire.
"When I'm in the studio I like to wear this Japanese-looking white race-car jumpsuit thing," says the drummer turned beatmaker, reached at his Brooklyn home. "Basically, I can wear it every day, to the point where I forget I'm wearing it, so that when I go into town to get some groceries, I must seem like some weirdo to these people."
That oddball spirit shapes every second of LCD Soundsystem's new album, Sound of Silver, which finds Murphy at his most literal-minded: very simply, the record is his approximation of what that colour might sound like, all shiny surfaces, slippery textures, and reflective illusions. Where the cover of LCD's self-titled first record featured a large disco ball, this one depicts a tinfoil spaceship, a flimsy thing that doesn't look like it could escape the driveway, much less the planet. Placing that homemade craft on the cover is Murphy's way of memorializing the sessions that led to the album; when he spoke to the Straight last summer, the producer said that he had papered his farmhouse studio with aluminum foil, as if to force himself to make the weirdest, most otherworldly record he could.
"I'm constantly taking pains to show people that I'm a normal guy," he said at the time. "Whenever people ask me about being a musician, I'm always saying, 'Anybody can do this, anybody can make music.' But the records I love the most are made by fucking weirdoes; that's just the truth. I'm not a particularly weird guy, but by trying so hard to be normal, by making something as woodsy and earthen as the first record, I think I ended up betraying part of myself."
Played one after the other, LCD Soundsystem and Sound of Silver initially seem like indistinguishable halves of some larger whole; both are steeped in Murphy's signature sounds, especially his technique of doubling a synthetic source with a complementary "real" instrument–constructing, say, a rhythm section from a drum machine and an electric bass. Then there are the similarities in the songs themselves; the sophomore record's spastic hipster freak-out "North American Scum" recalls its predecessor's "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House", while the cowbell-powered "Us V Them" is an ecstasy flashback to LCD Soundsystem's "Too Much Love".
"I'm not one of those people who says that every album they make is going to be a complete revolution from the last one," he explains. "I don't mind seeing this record as a companion to the first."
Despite all the resemblances between the discs, it would be misreading Sound of Silver to call it a straightforward rehashing of previously expressed ideas. If LCD Soundsystem was the result of Murphy's channelling and refining of other people's music, Sound of Silver is his application of that same technique to his own work; in elaborating on his first record, the New Jersey native has, ironically, created his most idiosyncratic outing to date.
That approach to recycling and renewing is best exemplified on the first cut, "Get Innocuous!", which begins in much the same way as LCD Soundsystem's epochal first single, "Losing My Edge"–with a coupling of synthetic snares and a tightly coiled machine-bass riff. In the first song, that pairing is the bedrock for the entire track; Murphy keeps piling on the effects like a bricklayer, taxing that foundation until the whole edifice threatens to topple under the strain. On "Get Innocuous!", however, that initial rhythmic pairing serves as the root for the tangled sprawl that ensues; by the time the bagpipes and the violins start arguing near the end, the track isn't so much a single building as a riotous neighbourhood at night.
"I think what makes this record more expansive was that I wanted the takes to be live, whether it was the drums or bass or any of the other parts," Murphy says. "I always look at the studio process as a bit of an experiment; in no way am I making avant-garde music, but the way that I work is experimental in that I never really know how things will turn out until I finish them."
The producer goes on to cite "All My Friends", for which he recorded an initial drum track, to which he then played bass; then, he returned to the kit and replayed the drums listening only to the bass part, and then reperformed the bass to the rerecorded drums, making the exchange five or six times to achieve final takes that were fully alive and utterly unlike what he'd started with.
Those studio experiments wouldn't amount to much if it weren't for Murphy's keen sense of melody. Sound of Silver isn't just a well-made producer's record; it's the year's best pop outing to date, and both the high point and a fitting conclusion for the dance-punk scene that Murphy himself instigated. When those pop historians trace the five-year path from the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" (which Murphy coproduced) to Sound of Silver's sublimely elegiac "Someone Great", the latter song will sound like a poignant farewell to the genre–and the brief era–LCD Soundsystem defined.
LCD Soundsystem plays the Commodore tonight (May 3). James Murphy plays a DJ set at Celebrities on Friday (May 4).