Courtesy of the artist
LCD Soundsystem is back. The New York indie band blended dance music and punk rock to critical acclaim in the 2000s. Six years ago, the band announced it was breaking up. The band’s legendary farewell shows sold out New York’s Madison Square Garden.
But last year, frontman James Murphy announced that more music was on the way. LCD Soundsystem started touring again, playing small venues and huge festivals. And now, the band has released a new album, American Dream.
Music journalist Lizzy Goodman, who chronicled the scene in which LCD Soundsystem emerged in her book Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011, spoke to Rachel Martin about the new album, LCD Soundsystem’s return and the attendant controversy. Hear the conversation at the audio link or read an extended, edited transcript below.
Rachel Martin: Let’s go back to the aughts, because it’s just fun to say “the aughts” — the 2000s, when LCD Soundsystem was blowing up, essentially. How come? What distinguished them so much back then?
Lizzy Goodman: I think you’re talking about a moment where there’s a lot of cultural change. Internet culture is rising; there’s sort of this sense of colliding genres, from literary genres to music genres to film genres. James Murphy and LCD made this very literate rock ‘n’ roll. It’s been described in the book as “music as rock journalism,” and I think there’s some truth to that. So in that sense, blending the intellectualism of thinking about music with the feeling of a great dance-rock band really connected with people at that time.
So it put out just three albums and the band announced they were breaking up. Why?
Right. Why does James do what he does — a question that many of his collaborators and many journalists have been asking for years. You have to think of him as the ultimate rock scholar. In addition to being a brilliant soundsmith, he knows music incredibly well and is also very self-aware. There was always this sense, from the beginning of LCD, of: “Let’s get out before it gets stale,” and sort of an awareness of this kind of canon of rock bands that have faded away, instead of the “burnt out” euphemism. And he was very conscious in advance about avoiding that fate.
All right, let’s talk about the new album. Is it worth the wait?
[Laughs.] Well, what wait, right? Because we weren’t anticipating that they were ever coming back.
That’s right, there was no wait!
So sure — Best wait ever, you know? [Laughs.]
Is it any good?
I think it’s incredible. The album is gloomier, in an interesting way. It’s darker and a little bit heavier than anything they’ve done before, and certainly than the singles would indicate. I was surprised when I actually heard the whole record and its undercurrent of — I don’t know; it’s stormy, I’d say. But I like that. It’s a stormy time, man. Let’s speak truth.
I want to talk about a track that stood out to me as darker, in a way: “how do you sleep?” So that’s dark — that, to me, speaks of the darkness.
It sounds like Bauhaus doing the Wizard of Oz soundtrack, or something like that. It’s very creatively edgy. It’s gloomy, though, for sure.
Is there a track on here that surprised you in any way?
“american dream” is one of my favorites so far — but it has that shimmer, that early 2000s [feeling of] “let’s find the tiny club that’s probably going to collapse upon us tonight, where they’re playing The Smiths into Public Enemy into Kraftwerk.” That’s what it sounds like, that cast back to a sunnier time, ironically. It’s ironic to say that a band born in the shadow of 9/11 was speaking of a sunnier time in that moment, but I think you feel the contrast between that track and [“how do you sleep?”] — almost a kind of sonic triptych of the years that have spanned between those two things.
Earlier you said LCD Soundsystem is “music as rock journalism.” What do you mean?
I’m always like: James could just do my job. He really does understand the canon of rock scholarship, in addition to the themes that we see music introduce into the literature of our culture and that space. And I think this is music commenting on life.
So has he talked at all about why he felt like he wanted to bring LCD Soundsystem back?
He has. People have been asking him that question a lot; he’s answered in a couple of different ways. Some of them have gotten him into some trouble, in terms of the way people have read his quotes: the idea of some sort of grand plan to manipulate fans into coming to the final show, like it’s a long game that he’s playing … and six years later, you’re gonna get the joke? I mean, there is a kind of controversy around this. A person that I would describe as the same guy or girl who’s in the record store,”I don’t want anyone else to know about The Modern Lovers,” the arms crossed, cranky rock fan, to me is the one who is like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe they’re getting back together, that’s so cheap!”
You don’t feel that way?
I do not feel that way. Here’s my thing: If you are an LCD fan, and your argument is it’s a betrayal for them to be playing, how do those two things compute? If you’re an LCD fan and your argument is “please don’t play” — [laughs] how does that hold water, just on a purely philosophical level?