This article has been updated with a new introduction and additional entries by Robert Ham.
After dubbing their then-final statement, the live recording of their farewell show at Madison Square Garden, The Long Goodbye, LCD Soundsystem went about the long return. They started playing shows, teased new music and for an interminable while promised a full-length was forthcoming. They fulfilled that and then some with the September release of Amercian Dream, an album that evidenced a maturation in leader James Murphy’s already finely tuned spin on dance music and his lyrical outlook as he spent much of the album worrying over personal relationships and his mortality.
was only further proof of why LCD Soundsystem quickly became one of the most beloved bands of the modern era, one that constantly evolved and adjusted while it cherry-picked from its copious influences—post-punk, italo disco and go-go, among them. Murphy’s goal was nothing less than creating anthems to stand the test of time, even if they do tend to look in the rearview mirror a little too much. That they succeeded on all counts and are still trying to move forward is a testament to the intelligence and care poured into every last note. Even if the songs don’t necessarily coalesce as they were intended, there’s still so much to marvel at in their construction and execution. Here’s a ranking of at every LCD Soundsystem, from
James Murphy has said in interviews that “Somebody’s Calling Me” is essentially him stealing from Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing,” but written on Xanax. While that works for the majority of the song, the insane synth sounds thrown in the chorus are more jarring than interesting. While many times on This Is Happening, LCD Soundsystem plays around with the experience for the listener (see “Dance Yrself Clean”), “Somebody’s Calling me” is almost too abrasive.
“Hippie Priest Bum-Out” was released as an extra on several, much better LCD Soundsystem releases, from 45:33 to the B-side on the U.K. single release for “North American Scum.” That’s exactly what “Hippie Priest Bum-Out” feels like, an interlude, in-between material, a break in the middle of the fun that surrounds it. “Hippie Priest Bum-Out” isn’t bad as a bonus track, but that’s what it feels like, lacking much substance of any of the heart that fills most LCD songs.
Despite being the debut film score of James Murphy, the soundtrack for Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg surprisingly only features one LCD Soundsystem song, “Oh You (Christmas Blues.)” The track sounds nothing like other material from the band, much more bluesy and similar to Pink Floyd, and especially different from This Is Happening, which would come out only two months later. But “Oh You (Christmas Blues)” does match the depression of that film’s main characters and Murphy’s solo work on the album is an incredibly fun diversion for the lead singer.
In many places, LCD Soundsystem sounds like a combination of different directions the band could go in, which makes it a fascinating artifact of where this band never fully went. “Tired” is the loudest, most punk-inspired of LCD’s work. Originally a B-side to “Give It Up,” “Tired” shows an aggression in being exhausted, which most likely is where the origins of “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up” came from. But it’s a shame we rarely ever heard such anger and fury in LCD’s work ever again.
What starts out as another groove-heavy entry into the LCD Soundsystem, buoyed by a perfect syncopated synth melody and simple, stutter-step drumming, turns into a drag of confused imagery once Murphy’s vocals kick in. Is it a message of hopefulness as it reminds the listener/protagonist over and over “You’re just a baby now,” or is it just an excuse to write about that morning’s hangover and prove that he knows the definition of the word “ablutions”? What keeps this song from sinking is a perfectly dead-eyed Nancy Whang vocal turn and a Robert Fripp-off guitar solo.
“Yeah (Pretentious Version)” gets right down to what it is there in the title, longer than the already long “Crass Version,” without any lyrics and is nothing but a straight-up jam. The “Pretentious Version” is clearly LCD having a ton of fun, especially about halfway through as they go nuts on some drums and cowbells, but after the excellence of the “Crass Version,” the “Pretentious Version” does end up seeming like a bunch of fun screwing around.
An instance where it feels like Murphy thought up what he thought was a hilarious song title, or gave an instrumental a goofy name, and stuck with it to the bitter end. The sad truth is that it, and the rest of the song’s unsettled lyrics, renders what would be a fantastic tune—a rumbling jam that evokes the sound of Joy Division’s future had Ian Curtis not taken his own life—into something tossed off and insignificant. It may cleanse the palate for the deeply felt closing song on American Dream, but it’s one of the most skippable songs on the album.
In an interview James Murphy gave to The A.V. Club soon after the release of LCD’s final album, Murphy said “‘Thrills’ in a way, was totally about my life—and that was just dumb because my life was pretty dumb. Things happen in your life that change things.” In hindsight, “Thrills” is quite basic, as Murphy searches for, well, thrills in the dark of the club over fuzzy synths. For Murphy at the time, yes, “Thrills” was autobiographical in a way, but as it seems Murphy would agree, that time has gone and it doesn’t feel that way anymore, instead leaving a frantic dance cut without quite the introspective viewpoint he would later give with almost every song.
Coming after “Losing My Edge”—LCD’s ode to feeling lost in the increasingly large world of music—“Beat Connection” has James Murphy trying to bring everyone together on the “saddest night out in the U.S.A.” through beat communication. “Beat Connection” is almost like LCD Soundsystem stating their first goals, to unite through the beats and songs, giving people an outlet to find love, have fun and come undone, assisting people find a literal beat connection. Even though in the song prior, where James is realizing he’s a creation of a bygone era, “Beat Connection” is him still being able to bring unification while their future is coming up from behind.
While their debut album begins with a scream, Sound of Silver builds slowly into the melancholy of finding success and trying to find the normalcy within. As James struggles, Nancy Whang comes in almost like the song’s conscience stating, “You can normalize, don’t it make you feel alive? Get innocuous!” Sound of Silver was a step forward for LCD Soundsystem, combining entrancing beats with heartfelt, conflicted lyrics, both of which we get from the very beginning of their second album.
LCD Soundsystem started with a song that presented the idea of being on the outside of the world you’ve spent so much time enveloping yourself in. “Pow Pow,” the last song that LCD Soundsystem recorded before their breakup, shows the advantages and disadvantages to the inside as well as the outside that they started out in. “Pow Pow” is almost a commentary to the last decade of music, as well as allows James Murphy to meander into in-jokes, references and stream-of-consciousness writing. “Pow Pow” is the exit interview LCD conducts before leaving the world they’ve excelled in for years.
“Give It Up, was originally bundled with the B-side “Tired,” which makes sense since they’re the most obviously rock-inspired songs to come from their first album. “Give it Up” is a funky, rock song, reminiscent of Gang of Four’s Entertainment!, but sped up. With more pop-inspired songs like and “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” it’s amazing that LCD never found a more mainstream audience, especially considering how “Give It Up” is simply a wonderfully crafted pop song at its core. They wanted a hit? Well here it is.
James Murphy’s vocals in “Disco Infiltrator” vary from over-the-top to borderline sick, yet still Murphy makes you want to plug your nose and sing-along. Filled with handclaps and a string of beeps on an upward momentum, “Disco Infiltrator” almost annoys while still demanding “You’ve got to shake the waist.” It’s a testament to how many different styles, ideas and sounds LCD can play around with and still be incredibly danceable and catchy.
Much like “Disco Infiltrator,” “On Repeat” almost dares its listener to not be annoyed by Murphy’s delivery at the beginning. The difference however is that “On Repeat” hits its stride about halfway through, turning Murphy into an almost screaming prophet on the streets of New York City, already conflicted about the people that live in the place he comes. “On Repeat” builds on itself over and over, until the song is an insane flurry of sounding, helping Murphy’s message resonate on repeat.
Murphy is never so charming as when he’s getting nostalgic. And not just musically. This prime cut from American Dream seems like a companion piece to Meet Me In The Bathroom, Lizzy Goodman’s oral history of the Brooklyn music scene of the ‘90s and ‘00s, looking back as it does to his younger, drug-fueled days waiting “all night for the rock transmissions.” Like most backwards-looking LCD tracks, the tone of “I Used To” is wistful and dark, nodding to the surely heavy come downs and lost relationships that are the result of focusing one’s energy solely on having nothing but good times.
Before New York brought him down, New York City was just a creep to James Murphy in “Yr City’s A Sucker.” Ending their first album with a deconstruction of NYC, “Yr City’s A Sucker” is more like a celebration, with an incredible bass line and mesmerizing synths that permeate until the last second. “Yr City’s A Sucker” concludes LCD Soundsystem with a song that sounds a bit like Modest Mouse, a bit like Radiohead and can only make the listener excited to hear what this band will sound like in their second album.
So much of This Is Happening feels in some way like LCD Soundsystem saying goodbye, with so many of the songs filled with nostalgia and remembrances of the past. But “One Touch” feels more like LCD’s last chance to just make people dance, the last moment to get on up before the club closes. Because of this, “One Touch” has LCD putting everything they’ve got into this one song, filled with an insane amount of noises, instruments and sounds to end the party right.
The title track to the fourth LCD Soundsystem is another in a long line of fantastic songs that are hollow at their core. Especially this late in the album, the frustration at hearing Murphy strike the same bewildered and embittered tone about the death of his idols (another Alan Vega reference pops up here) is only made easier to swallow by music that feels like it’s swarming around you and nipping at your skin gently.
The simple, repeated chorus of “Sound of Silver” makes it obvious why this song shares a title with the album, since it basically explains the entire album with one simple mantra. These five lines over and over shows the desire for nostalgia and the criticism of such thinking, since everything always looks better in hindsight. “Sound of Silver” keeps to a steady, simple beat, only to throw in various focal points to get lost in throughout its seven minutes, as if to give you something to zone out to while you contemplate what the chorus is trying to convey.
“Great Release” splits LCD Soundsystem right in two, giving a moment of respite in between discs, but also showing that LCD can be more than just great dance music—a harbinger on the future to come. At this point, it’s hard not to hear “All I Want” or “Someone Great” hiding underneath “Great Release,” a hint that even though James Murphy never wanted to make personal music, it’s just sitting there, waiting to be unleashed.
Murphy has said that “Time To Get Away” is about an old manager, which makes sense given the lyrics about money and power. Yet, “Time to Get Away” could easily be about so many people, the music kids of “Losing My Edge,” an ex-girlfriend, even himself, since the dichotomy of being cool and being not cool has seemingly become even more important between albums. But as the first song in Sound of Silver, “Time To Get Away” most feels like abandoning the old way of doing things, going more personal and by extent, becoming an even greater band than before.
Originally written for the blackjack card-counting film 21, “Big Ideas” is incredibly cinematic and is unfortunately one of the more obscure songs in LCD Soundsystem’s catalogue. Maybe that’s because the movie is terrible, or maybe it’s because it does easily sound like it could fit into almost any movie moment. “Big Ideas” does sound like LCD trying to make a combination hit/sample of a film score, but it’s a catchy little gem that deserves more attention.
Like Eric Stoltz’s character in Kicking and Screaming, Murphy has a tendency to paraphrase himself, for good and for ill. When something works for him, he tweaks the formula just so to get his point across once again. So, if he needs a song that touches on the same themes as “All My Friends,” he’s gonna make another song that sounds a lot like “All My Friends.” What he adds to the song in terms of dynamics and more danceable groove, he loses in a lyric that sounds extemporaneous in all the wrong ways. Like a bad Eminem parking garage freestyle.
Any song that dared to be the B-side to “All My Friends” had to be incredible, and “Freak Out/Starry Eyes” might very well be one of LCD’s most underrated gems. The two-part song begins the funk inspired “Freak Out,” goes through a great drum breakdown, before going full-on electronic with “Starry Eyes” that sounds like a robot singing Blondie. The transition shouldn’t go as well as it does, but then again, LCD is all about meshing styles and ideas into one cohesive whole.
“We’re making out day jobs into a steady career,” Murphy sings in “Watch the Tapes,” a song that throws Murphy into the spotlight, dealing with music journalist and the disillusioned kids that still come to the club. “Watch the Tapes” presents LCD as a band doing what they’re supposed to be doing, yet, it’s just not good enough for the masses, as if they should just repeat what everyone else does to become famous. Murphy was given many chances to make it big, with pop stars coming to him to collaborate, however almost a decade later, no one is talking about those stars and people still talk about LCD, so maybe they were doing something right all along.
There’s always been a level of conflict in LCD’s writing since the beginning, but “Us V Them” presents that battle straight away. It’s us against them and who is who, who knows? The vagueness of “Us V Them” plays in the perfect, relatable way that “Time To Get Away” also works, allowing the idea to resonate to almost anyone who’s paying close enough attention to the lyrics while tapping along. When the chorus of “Cloud, block out the sun…” comes in like a blast, the production is so clear and gorgeous, perfectly constructed, almost as if to make the fighting stop and allow everyone to stare in awe.
An instrumental that closes out the Japanese and digital versions of American Dream, this 13-minute tune feels like a sketch or not entirely fleshed out idea. Perhaps that’s why Murphy didn’t toss any lyrics on it just yet. There’s no denying there’s still something there, some colorful blipping and twinkling delights that might inspire a budding DJ to focus their entire set around this track. Would love to hear Murphy hone these ideas into something sharper and more resonant. Until that happens, let’s keep dancing.
In just three albums, LCD Soundsystem became gigantic to a point that they could sell out Madison Square Garden in minutes and release an album that would be near the top of the Billboard charts. Yet despite this, they never were a “hit-making” band and frankly probably never will be. “You Wanted A Hit” directly jokes about their inability to attempt to make a popular song, right down to the point that the song in a radio-unfriendly nine minutes long. To the people who loved LCD, they were making hits their entire career. But expanding into the world of popular music? Well, that’s not what they do.
For LCD Soundsystem fans, Christmas came a day early last year when the band released their first single in five years, “Christmas Will Break Your Heart.” The song confirmed months and years of speculation that the band would get back together and do so with maybe the most depressing Christmas song ever made. But despite these lyrics that make the holidays sound like the absolute worst, “Christmas Will Break Your Heart” is a joyous occasion, where LCD finally reunite and the future of the band becomes filled with the exciting unknown once again. Almost five months later and we still haven’t heard any other new material from LCD, but “Christmas Will Break Your Heart” is the promise that the future will be great.
Right down to the title, this is an unabashed remake/remodel of This Is Happening opener “Dance Yourself Clean,” and a damn good one at that. With the same sense of foreboding mixed with anticipation in the music, Murphy opens up the wounds that he endured after deciding to put LCD Soundsystem on ice and the fury that came his way when he decided to thaw the project back out again. And it’s debt to Bowie’s Berlin period, he captures the twitchy, coke-fueled energy of Low and Heroes right down to the Fripp-like guitar stabs and flat-affect vocal harmonies.
By parodying the garage rock movement of the time, LCD Soundsystem makes the shortest and best straight-up rock song of their career. “Movement” takes on the recent rise of bands like The Strokes and The White Stripes calling it more of a fad than an actual wave in music, saying “It’s like a culture without the effort of all the culture.” Yet LCD is able to do this by putting their own twist of the new style while also sounding distinctly like themselves, right down to their self-deprecating lyrics such as, “It’s like a fat guy in a T-shirt doing all the saying.”
As the last song on This Is Happening, “Home” beautifully wraps up the three album experience that was LCD Soundsystem. “Home” feels like a warm hug goodbye and wraps up the entire album wonderfully, recalling the “aaahhhhhhh” verse from “Dance Yrself Clean,” but this time with the dancing coming to a close. Murphy has said that LCD felt to him like home, which he hints at in the last lines LCD would release, “look around you, you’re surrounded, it won’t get any better until the night.” After over a decade of performing together, LCD Soundsystem has become his home and it very well might not get any better than that.
Stuck right in the middle of two of LCD Soundsystem’s best songs, “Too Much Love” runs the risk of getting lost. But with Murphy’s dead delivery, often singing the lyrics like one long run-on sentence, “Too Much Love’ stands out as a great rest in between “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” and “Tribulations.” As various percussion leads to trip synths it’s almost as if LCD is transitioning between the various styles of the two songs that surround it.
The fifth LCD Soundsystem album closes with a tribute to the late David Bowie, but kicks off with a sonic tribute to the late Suicide vocalist Alan Vega. Copping some moves from that band’s epic “Dream Baby Dream,” Murphy spins it into a desperate romantic plea (“I’m on my knees/I promise I’m clean”). The song comes across like an acknowledgement of wrongdoing tempered with the understanding that if his prostration before his partner doesn’t get the job done, his love life will “stumble on.” It is one of Murphy’s most direct lyrics and, because of it, one of his most powerful compositions yet.
When James Murphy started LCD Soundsystem, a song like “Losing My Edge” could almost feel like homework, as Murphy espouses dozens of bands that the listener should try to catch up with that he’ll be borrowing from for the next decade. But with a song like “Yeah (Crass Version),” Murphy deceptively hides this homework in the music, while the most monotonous lyrics of his entire career play over it. “Yeah (Crass Version)” is a quick rundown of the history of dance music, constantly changing and evolving, from a ‘70s inspired into to the almost indecipherable programming of the 2000s. For a song that repeats the word “yeah” more than two hundred times, “Yeah (Crass Version)” is actually saying quite a bit.
One of the central themes of American Dream—and really much of Murphy’s work as LCD Soundsystem—is wrestling with the forward march of time and the effect that that has on our world and our psyches. The disco pulse of this song, complete with Al Doyle’s tart little Vocodered vocal hook, provides a nice counter to the embittered, yet wistful tone of the lyrics. He’s annoyed at the kids who think they can live forever and sincerely wishes he could get back to that place. But he’s getting older, we’re all getting older, so let’s dance and connect and enjoy ourselves while we’re here.
“North American Scum” has LCD addressing the world’s dislike of the U.S. in the mid-2000s and embracing it wholeheartedly, even starting the song making sure that everyone listening know he’s a proud American. Sure he admits that they might be scum, but there’s something so unusual and sort of nice to having a band at that time accept their home rather than criticizing what clearly doesn’t work, as many bands then were. “North American Scum” says yeah, we’re not always great, but there’s something wonderful about where we’re from, and even though LCD had been around the world at this time, yet there’s only one place they seem to want to call home.
Made on the night he recorded “Open Up Your Heart” for The Rapture and later made to sound more like “Dear Prudence,” “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up” sounds like a fantastic combination of those two songs, performed by a person who just wants to return to bed. “Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up” is one of the first examples of melancholy in LCD’s work, placed right in the middle of LCD Soundsystem’s first disc works as a palate cleanser before the second half, but also as a moment of introspection and sadness that will definitely come into play with their later work.
David Bowie had a huge impact on Murphy’s life, both as a fan who borrowed liberally from the Thin White Duke’s ‘70s heyday in his LCD Soundsystem work and on a personal level as the two became friends. Those two streams collide in this closing song on the physical copies of American Dream as Murphy lets 12 minutes wander by like a passing landscape. He exercises remarkable restraint on this song, leaving the music at nice gentle simmer while reminisces and expresses a world of regret that he didn’t do more to stay in touch with Bowie before his passing. Supposedly, Murphy wanted to include a spoken word poem read by Leonard Cohen on this tune. An interesting choice but one that would have dulled its impact. As it is, this song, like its subject, leaves a deep, lasting mark.
“Drunk Girls” might very be LCD Soundsystem’s best attempt at just having dumb fun. Even when they’re just trying to enjoy themselves, there’s still moments in “Drunk Girls” that are borderline profound (“Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut. It comes back, but it’s never the same”) and actually quite romantic, as the chorus describes a meet cute with the intent of spending the night with someone. “Drunk Girls” understandably takes the side of women in terms of the stupidity and differences in the drunk sexes, as Murphy watches over a club where drunk love connections are being made all around him.
Released in the period between LCD Soundsystem and Sound of Silver, 45:33 has almost been forgotten as little more than an LCD experiment or even worse, little more than a commercial for Nike. Rather, 45:33 is a perfect bridge between these two albums, showing the exploration of sounds found in the second disc of LCD Soundsystem, while hinting at the growth for the band and even some of the sounds that will be found in Sound of Silver. For example, amongst the piano intro and faux-funk of the 45:33 comes an instrumental version of what will become “Someone Great,” which also works beautifully in this context as well. Even if 45:33 is one long, album length experiment, it’s still a completely fascinating one that works extremely well.
Choosing a song title that references one of John Lennon’s most acidic jeremiads against his former Beatles bandmate Paul McCartney was, like everything in Murphy’s musical career, no mistake. This epic-length track that sits at the center of American Dream is a pointed bit of commentary about his fractured personal and professional relationship with former DFA Records co-founder Tim Goldsworthy. The throbbing tune swirls around Murphy’s fury at his ex-friend’s cocaine addiction and the lack of empathy he seems to have at the fact that they’re no longer on speaking terms. Brutal and beautiful in equal measure.
The beginning of This Is Happening’s two-part breakup drama, “All I Want” encapsulates the moments felt right after the end of the relationship, a desire to feel pity and for others to feel just a fraction of the pain that you’re enduring now. As the wobbly guitar comes in, it’s almost like it’s tracking the movements of the protagonist’s brain, running a mile a minute and all over the place, dealing with the blow it has just received. “All I Want” presents a person who just wants the other person to understand how he’s feeling to the point that he wants absolutely nothing more, simply to be understood and for the other person that ended the relationship to feel a part of that. “All I Want” might be LCD’s most heartbreaking song, since it not only deals with the loss of love, but also succeeds in creating the idea of wanting to just not feel alone in the pain that comes after.
With its in-and-out beat and Murphy’s vocals perfectly blending with it, “Tribulations” is perhaps one of the catchiest songs on LCD Soundsystem’s debut album (which is strange since it also feels like one of the simpler songs from that album). Murphy wrote “Tribulations” as an example as to how easy writing a pop song is, and despite the basic nature of it, “Tribulations” excels. It’s impossible to get out of your head—especially with that completely captivating beat—and Murphy does it seemingly without even trying.
Chronologically in the discography of LCD Soundsystem, “Someone Great” is the first time we get glimpses of pain and loss in the band’s music, coming just right before the emotional wallop that is “All My Friends.” Utilizing the electronic sounds used in “45:33” and filled with so many strange, unique sounds that almost seem indefinable, “Someone Great” just comes together so beautifully in a way that shows that Murphy should’ve been writing about personal things all along. And that’s why “Someone Great” works so well: it feels incredibly personal, with hints of depression due to the loss of someone deeply important, and despite the desire to just stop for a little, everything just keeps coming and coming until the day it stops.
On a personal note, This Is Happening came out right after I had gone through a huge breakup and I used to listen to “I Can Change” every single day, almost as an anthem to trying to become a better person in hopes that the other person will come back. Maybe the saddest thing about “I Can Change” is the hope in Murphy’s voice. He still believes that the person who has let him go will take him back once he’s become exactly who someone else wants him to be. “I Can Change” is Murphy’s ode to ‘80s synth-pop and matches that genre’s emotional core while still feeling deeply personal. There are lines here that cry of truth, such as, “Love is a murderer, but if she calls you tonight, everything is all right.” It’s coming from a person who is grasping at straws anywhere he can. “I Can Change” is Murphy at his most desperate, pleading to his lover to come back, willing to do anything to be as perfect as he believes his partner is, but not realizing that shouldn’t be what love is.
As the last song performed during its last show at Madison Square Garden, to the surprise of no one, LCD Soundsystem busted out “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” the perfect way to conclude such a perfect night. In the documentary Shut Up and Play the Hits, the song is prefaced by Murphy getting in a cab and visiting the members of LCD Soundsystem for dinner, followed by a contemplative drive as Murphy looks out at the city he calls home. It’s a beautiful moment where you can see the love in Murphy’s eyes, almost as if once LCD is done, he’ll be kicked out of the city he has embraced and criticized.
“New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” is Murphy’s anthem for the city that has let him down, but still it’s “the one pool where I’d happily drown.” Like the kids who had borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ‘80s, Murphy never got to see NYC in its heyday and you can feel the pain in missing this moment of musical and cultural significance. He’s been promised one thing, been sold a bill of lies, but still he’s accepted what he has been given. Maybe the city at its peak still exists to someone, but not for him. The love for New York has always loomed big in Murphy’s music, from his love of The Velvet Underground and CBGB and the artists that come along with that, but “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” is his love song for a love he’ll never be able to shake, no matter if it still disappoints him.
“I was the first guy playing Daft Punk to the rock kids. I played it at CBGB’s. Everybody that I was crazy,” Murphy uses as a point of pride in “Losing My Edge.” Murphy clearly holds Daft Punk in high regard, as his own band would mix rock and electronic music in a similar way to what Daft Punk did to pave the way. So it makes sense that in “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House,” Murphy’s idyllic fantasy song, the duo comes to perform at his home. But even though the illusive duo comes to his house, he still can’t keep cool, obsessed with making sure they get set up correctly, as a freak out is brewing when they descend from the bus and even considering kidnapping them at the song’s end. “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” is also emblematic of Murphy’s abilities to visualize a story in fascinating ways, as it’s almost impossible to hear the song without imagining some weird kid figuring out how to get Daft Punk to play for him and his friends and of course taking the time out to celebrate by performing the greatest cowbell solo since Blue Öyster Cult.
In hindsight, you can hear so much of what LCD Soundsystem will excel at over its three albums with its very first song. “Losing My Edge” starts off so simple and then increases over its eight minutes until Murphy is almost screaming over his own music like in “Dance Yrself Clean.” There’s the self-deprecating humor all over (“I’ve never been wrong, I used to work in the record store”), and the desire to stay relevant when you’re just slightly behind what’s “cool.” Murphy even gives the desperation that we’ll hear in “I Can Change,” as he ends the song rattling off bands that might make him relevant once more, before the song repeats over and over “you don’t know what you really want.” “Losing My Edge” isn’t actually about the music that Murphy lists off; it’s about the superiority that can be felt while becoming increasingly inferior. And yet, a song about being uncool made Murphy cooler than ever. “Losing My Edge” was Murphy dealing with becoming inadequate and the idea that what you love can become who you are and your own, and in projecting these fears, birthed a band that would become just as cool and important as any of the bands he name checks.
If you were going to listen to the entire LCD Soundsystem discography back-to-back, the middle of Sound of Silver would be quite the downer, with “Someone Great,” “All My Friends” and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.” Considering the leap from non-personal to incredibly personal music between their first and second album, it was hard not to wonder what LCD would do with its final album. Murphy knows that not only does he have to mess with the perceptions of what people want and are expecting, while also starting over anew. At first, “Dance Yrself Clean” is a surprise—so soft, it almost demands you to turn up the volume to even hear what Murphy is saying. Then as the great LCD songs do, it builds and builds, until it abruptly makes you turn that volume right back down, but if it does its job correctly—which it obviously does—you won’t reach for that volume dial.
“Dance Yrself Clean” presents Murphy as an unreliable narrator, through blasting out your stereo and thought the lyrics. After an entire second album of introspection, he second-guesses himself saying “killing it with close inspecting, killing it can only make it worse.” After lamenting those who have gone with “Someone Great” and “All My Friends,” he presents the idea that maybe your friends are actually all shitty. So if thinking too much and hating the company you keep have got you down, what’s the best remedy? Why, dancing yrself clean of these worries of course! But “Dance Yrself Clean” is also the beginning of the funeral party, the beginning of the end before LCD Soundsystem is no more. Instead of mourning the loss of LCD, “Dance Yrself Clean” asks its audience to dance for the end of an era and shocking them into the final stretch.
Without any hyperbole, “All My Friends” is a masterpiece, a classic, a perfect song. It is without a doubt, the greatest song that LCD Soundsystem ever made. “All My Friends” is the epitome of all their strengths thrown together into one of the most brilliant songs so far this millennium. And even with all this gushing over “All My Friends,” it still undersells just how phenomenal of a song it truly is.
“All My Friends” is everything you could ever ask for from an LCD Soundsystem, a culmination of what has made this band so great done to the highest levels. A simple part played on the piano over and over by Nancy Whang. That’s how it starts. Over the course of the song, it slips up occasionally, but it doesn’t matter, the power is there. The intensity slightly increasing until it seems like Whang’s fingers must not be anything but nubs.
But of course, LCD is phenomenal at adding elements continuously until its almost as if there’s no possibly way another sound could be added into the mix. Then Pat Mahoney comes in with a slightly more complicated drum part. They complement each other and grow in sound until James Murphy comes in. And that’s just how it starts.
Everyone knew from LCD Soundsystem that this band could create an incredibly sound, but Sound of Silver had LCD discovering just how impactful a phenomenal sound could be when melded with even more impactful lyrics, a mixture that could change lives and blow audiences away. Like LCD’s greatest songs, Murphy’s lyrics are funny, insulting to himself (“a face like a dad and a laughable stand”), incredibly personal, yet still immediately relatable.
For Murphy, “All My Friends” is about the struggle of touring and trying to get back to those people from “Losing My Edge.” But on a much deeper level, one that audiences still grasped, “All My Friends” is about aging, the inevitability of death, missing the days that have gone by and the friends that have come and gone that really matter. It’s a song about loss and pain and the understanding that everything is fleeting, the realization that this could be the last time. It’s looking at the past in the present and coming to grips with just how fast time flies.
LCD Soundsystem made three fantastic albums, and over that time, made some incredible music, but “All My Friends” is on a whole other level. For this generation, “All My Friends” could easily end up becoming the “Under Pressure” or “Heroes” that can make you feel alive and dare you want to take on the world. “All My Friends” is a testament to the power of music, LCD Soundsystem’s magnum opus. No matter how the LCD Soundsystem reunion goes, if the tour is garbage or if the next music they write is awful, they’ll always have made this perfect song, and we can still come home to this.
Ross Bonaime is a D.C.-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter or find more of his writing at his website