Artist: LCD Soundsystem
Album Title: Electric Lady Sessions
Release Date: February 8, 2019
Label: Columbia / DFA
At this point in his career, James Murphy has fairly little to prove. As the founder and principal member of New York art-dance-punk enclave LCD Soundsystem, he’s produced some of the grooviest, most powerful music of the 21st century.
The most recent of these, 2017’s excellent American Dream, functioned as a reunion record in name only. It was an energetic, relentlessly-catchy vision of the anger and anxiety permeating the United States under President Trump. It gazed deep into Murphy’s (and the nation’s) troubled psyche with a deft, haunting mix of Springsteen sheen and the rattling experimentation of Talking Heads’ best work. In other words, it made an ideal swansong for Murphy and his merry band.
That’s why Electric Lady Sessions–recorded by Murphy and the gang over three days early last year at the iconic Greenwich Village studio–doesn’t seem to have much of a reason for existing. Besides, of course, reminding listeners just how damn good these guys are.
Murphy isn’t afraid to let his vocals take a backseat to his bandmates on Electric. Not that he isn’t an incredible frontman, nor is he by any means half-assing his performances. His impassioned clarion calls hearken at times to an era when Bono actually cared. But the fearless leader generously dials his voice back a bit here so drummer Pat Mahoney and multi-instrumentalists Al Doyle, Tyler Pope, Korey Richey, Gavin Rayna Russom, Matt Thornley, and Nancy Whang can run the show.
A Band at the Top of Its Game
And my God, what a show it is. The group plays in top form throughout, with the disparate sonic contributions of each member congealing like parts of a well-oiled, ultra-funky machine. So few bands working today mesh so well as a unit, and hearing them come together is always something thrilling to behold.
The Dream cuts, which comprise half the record, don’t differ drastically from their original counterparts. But the group perform them with just as much passion, intricacy, and intensity. After a straightforward but menacing cover of the Human League’s “Seconds,” they launch into the glittering slow-dance of Dream’s title track. A heartbreaking hangover anthem, it reflects Murphy’s confrontation with his own midlife crisis. It’s a very strong start to an even stronger set.
“Call the Police” is a post-Y2K “Born to Run,” with the exuberance of young love replaced by the threat of fascist dystopia. The tense robo-pop breakdown of “Tonite” doubles here in both speed and paranoia, with panicky synthesizers warbling and screeching every which way. “Oh Baby,” a homage to Suicide’s Alan Vega, remains as shimmery and devastating as the first time you heard it. And everyone in the room is clearly having a blast with the nervous, gritty, B-52s-esque “Emotional Haircut.”
In addition to revisiting Dream, the band also breathe new life into a handful of older cuts. We get vibrant, drama-soaked takes on “Home” and “You Wanted a Hit” from 2010’s This is Happening. “Get Innocuous!,” off Sound of Silver (2007), begets a monolith of menacing sound, driven by towering harmonies from Whang and Murphy.
It’s Whang, ultimately, who proves Electric’s most valuable player. Always a gifted supporting musician with a dynamic stage presence, she steps up to lead vocals on the band’s massive, frenetic covers of Chic’s “I Want Your Love” and Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” Her energetic, stylized vocals and frenzied enunciation pack a major punch and bring an urgent immediacy to the proceedings.
Electric sees LCD Soundsystem’s divine powers combine into one big, happy, terrified family. And after the extreme gravity permeating Dream, it’s beautiful to hear Murphy and co. getting together and having fun with these tunes. Perhaps this album wasn’t needed—but I sure am glad it does.