Thursday, December 27, 2018

McQ's #1 Album Of 2017 - AMERICAN DREAM - LCD Soundsystem

Seven years ago, on April 2nd, 2011, LCD Soundsystem called it a career in one of the most epic music farewells in recent memory - an expansive, five-set, four-hour-plus, Last Waltz-calibre show in Madison Square Garden that included performances of nearly every original song in their discography.

Tough to come back after a grand exit like that without catching some serious backlash.

But sure enough, two years ago, rumblings surfaced that LCD Soundsystem might have a lot more Michael Jordan in their DNA than Jim Brown, and by April, 2016, the band was back, headlining festivals around the world.

And now, we have the new album, and I for one, am not complaining.

Just like MJ, after a brief period working out the rust from their layoff, LCD Soundsystem has returned in top form - older, wiser, maybe now a step slower than those more-talented, actually really nice kids coming up from behind James Murphy worried so much about in 2002's Losing My Edge, but still the most dominant player in the dance-rock field.

By nearly every measure, LCD Soundsystem's American Dream is the equal of, heck maybe even the superior to, the band's essential trio (quartet if you count the excellent, Nike-sponsored 45:33) of pre-hiatus releases.  The songs themselves are straight-up awesome, flawlessly structured, brilliantly arranged with all manner of those skronky, Bowie/Eno/Fripper-esque sonics we've grown accustomed to in LCD's work, but with those sonics employed in a more organic, less referential manner this time out (except maybe on the blatant but killer Harry Nillson aping of emotional haircut).

To top it off, James Murphy's singing has never been better.

And then the mix comes into play, and screws everything up.

I'm can't say what it is exactly, maybe it's just my aging ears, but something with this mix just feels off.

Normally one of the most sure-eared producers in the industry, Murphy's production here just doesn't pop like on the previous releases - songs feel more chaotically and randomly balanced, vocals get buried, at times the analog synth pulses hit with an volume intensity that is almost physically painful - and the poorer quality of the mix really drops everything down a notch.  Only Change Yr Mind and Tonite feel properly balanced.  There's a part of me that suspects, given how precisely in control the band was in its first iteration, that this muddier, less appealing mix is fully, thematically intentional, but for me, regardless of intent, it remains an obstacle to be overcome as a listener, not a choice that adds value in an Exile On Main Street sort of way.

And yet, at the end of the day, American Dream is still absolutely worthy of a Highest Recommend and my favorite album of the year.

With the exception of Oh Baby - easily the weakest album opener in the LCD discography - and the title track, which are both just good, every other track on this album is fantastic. Yes, by now, the band's bag of tricks is pretty well established and several of the songs hit the same vibes as popular tracks from the other albums (Other Voices is the Us V Them/Pow Pow groover, Emotional Haircut the maximum overdrive Movement-styled freakout, Call The Police the stirring All My Friends-styled crescendoing anthem), but after a few listens that similarity in design with prior material ceases to be an issue as the new songs assert their own unique merits.

Additionally, there are a few tracks here that feel entirely new, particularly the low key close out black screen with its gorgeous final three minutes, and the hyper intense, Suicide-ish character assassination of Murphy's estranged, one-time DFA partner Tim Goldsworthy How Do You Sleep?.  Musically, Sleep is an amazing song, possibly the album's best track. Lyrically, the bile is almost hard to stomach.

And lyrically, this is the darkest album in LCD's catalog. Obsessed with aging, diminished social relevance, destroyed beyond repair-relationships, and recently lost heros (Lou Reed, David Bowie, and Alan Vega are all alluded to here in ways both big and small), American Dream is hardly a walk in the park for listeners who choose to take on its lyrics closely, but in the end, isn't that one of rock's greatest, most timeless tricks? To get us grooving and thinking deeply about life's harder aspects in one fell swoop?

I definitely thinks so, and it's one of the many reasons American Dream is McQ's top album of 2017.

Status: Highest Recommend

Cherry Picker's Best Bets: other voices, change yr mind, how do you sleep, tonite, call the police, emotional haircut.

Track Listing:
1. oh baby - 8
2. other voices - 9
3. i used to - 9
4. change yr mind - 9
5. how do you sleep - 9
6. tonite - 9
7. call the police - 9
8. american dream - 8
9. emotional haircut - 9
10. black screen - 9
Intangibles - Above Average (would be very high if not for the mix)

Here are the videos for the album's most heavily promoted songs tonite and call the police.

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