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LCD Soundsystem is still trying to wake up as their 22 show Brooklyn Steel run comes to an end

William Miller, a prosperous 18th-century farmer, went from regional obscurity to national notoriety when he claimed that the Earth would be scorched in flames by the Second Coming of Jesus. With a penchant for detail, he provided a specific date for impending hellfire and brimstone: October 22nd, 1844. His followers, earnest and devout, draped themselves in white and gathered on rooftops, believing that higher ground will bring them closer to their personal rapture.

Compelled by apocalypse dreams, it’s not a far cry to assume that Miller and his followers were obsessed with endings; or, at least, with the control that comes with closure. We are all burdened with the mandate to make life meaningful, all while not knowing how long we got to make it so. Time, we discover, is our enemy. Time is an emotional terrorist. Time is “finite, but shit, it feels like forever.”

James Murphy, the wine-drinking, krautrock-loving, cowbell-advocating “fat guy in a tuxedo” is not a messiah, or a prophet, or (if you see it this way) a snake oil salesman. But the same preoccupation with endings that drove Miller to stand up on rooftops also drove Murphy into the seemingly voluntary death of his era-defining dance/rock outfit, LCD Soundsystem. On April 2nd, 2011, after a trio of records that dispatched the passion and angst of growing old, Murphy and his band of outsiders performed a three-hour elegy signaling the end of a once-obscure millennial vitality. As Murphy’s followers, all adorned in white, climbed up to their proverbial rooftop to receive their last rites at Madison Square Garden, there was a palpable sense that this self-inflicted ending was premature. At this point, the spotlight was never so centered on LCD Soundsystem. Murphy was touted as a genius by the media intelligentsia, evidenced by prominent features in revered “best” of lists – most notably, “All My Friends” was named the second best song of the decade by Pitchfork.

An average person would likely find recognition to be, at the very least, reassuring. But Murphy considers too many big ideas to find such reassurances nothing but pedestrian. Legacy, expectations, nostalgia, mortality – just a sample of the sensibilities that Murphy spent years mulling over, both in the art he created and in his finely curated public persona. These same big ideas can drive a sane person mad, and for the many quirks that Murphy is proud of, madness is not one of them. Hyper self-aware that his storied romance with prestige is more fleeting than stable, Murphy decided that sometimes the noblest thing a person can do is to climb up on the roof, clad themselves in white, and wait to self-destruct.

Part of our preoccupations with endings is that it’s rare to experience what comes after. Do we sit in white space, satisfied with what we’ve left behind? Or do we impatiently struggle with accepting finality? James Murphy’s professional afterlife was steeped in bold, but familiar, ambition. Accepting finality manifested into producing a daring record about existence and afterlife for a band most famously known for an album titled Funeral; opening a communal, yet lavish, wine bar in hipster-mecca Williamsburg aptly named, The Four Horsemen; and collaborating with a rock deity, David Bowie, for what turned out to be his self-authored eulogy. Even in his afterlife, Murphy was still surrounded by the culture he helped foster, all while being enveloped by the preoccupation he attempted to leave behind.

So when Murphy announced that the second coming of LCD Soundsystem was arriving a mere five years after Madison Square Garden, a portion of his audience played the role of Doubting Thomas. Angry and in disbelief, this return was met with pessimistic charges of “cashing in.” Even more severe, a comeback was seen as antithetical to the fabric of LCD Soundsystem. Would songs about youth without youth, time and consciousness, and “late era, middle-aged ramblings” mean anything to an audience that has buried those sentiments in a nostalgic past? Murphy, displaying his brand of wry self-awareness, responded with a mea culpa. “It needs to be better than anything we’ve done before…and we have to play better than we’ve ever played, frankly.” In other words, such a return needed to be justified. There was an acknowledged tension, one defined by an audience that demands entertainment that is challenging and cathartic, but accessible too. Murphy needed to be authentic, but not nostalgic; deliberate, but not trite. American Dream, the band’s fourth full-length album, is the result of that tension, and Murphy dove straight in.

Sonically, American Dream sits comfortably within the borders of what we have come to expect. The record is bursting with familiar motifs of electronic dance music, with its bigger-than-life bombast, as it collides against the towering canon of once-revered art-rock heroes. Those heroes, many of whom have recently departed, loom large, from the lush lullaby of “Oh Baby” paying tribute to Suicide’s nihilistic time bomb “Dream Baby Dream,” to the seething catharsis of “Call The Police” mirroring the melancholy drive of Berlin-era Bowie. It’s no surprise that a band that never attempted to conceal their influences deliver a votive to the pillars they’ve left behind. What is surprising, though, is that, more so than any of their previous work, there is a distinction between how the record sounds and how the record feels. The pliable and erratic energy of their previous records remains in light, but these pillars of Murphy’s fallen heroes are no longer just sonic foundations for which to stand on; they play an essential thematic impetus for Murphy’s reawakening. For the first time, James Murphy feels old, and consequently, American Dream feels like a ghost is being born.

LCD Soundsystem’s three previous records were reflections of Murphy’s idiosyncratic inner-monologue saturated with questions about fading youth and generational alienation. If “Losing My Edge,” Murphy’s first song, posited the questions of “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?”, then “Home,” the last song on what was supposed to be their final album, provided an answer: “If you’re afraid of what you need/Look around you/You’re surrounded/It won’t get any better.” There is contentment in James’ voice, and during a time where “indie rock” was starting to feel like “versions of versions of others repeating,” it made sense to call the whole thing off. American Dream, on the other hand, is still filled with yearning, but not for an iteration of himself he has abandoned; instead, it’s for the changes, often amorphous and radical, that come after contentment. For Murphy, the central function of his work is no longer to repeatedly ask, “what happened?”, but to have the perspective to question, “what now?”

If the release of a new record carried a burden of lofty expectations, then their reputation as a live act shared that same weight. In support of American Dream, the band embarked on a world tour, headlining a flurry of festivals, as well as selling out small to medium-sized clubs across the globe, including 22 shows at the newly minted Brooklyn Steel. The ubiquity of the band gave many of their followers, including me, permission to spark their inner Phish-fan (in 2017 alone, I’ve seen the band nine times, in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and even Austin to balance out my cosmopolitan bias). The more cynical side of me would categorize these shows as a “greatest hits” run, with much of their highlights replicating what worked during their This is Happening tour back in 2011; though the moment the disco ball scatters drops of silver across the audience, such considerations cease to matter. Murphy and company still retain the frenetic force typically reserved for a much younger and reckless band, but carry themselves with a swagger that only experience can foster. Every beat precisely on time; every move executed with careful specificity. LCD Soundsystem prioritizes a sense of professionalism that more flamboyant, star-focused acts tend to disregard. From the constant pulse of “Get Innocuous!” to the pit-opening frenzy of “Movement,” the band knows how to put on a show that permits us to sweat out our frustrations.

Though, technical prowess alone cannot explain what’s most compelling. There’s something about watching James Murphy, now 47 years old, with a Sennheiser microphone in hand, stepping into an amber red spotlight each night that rings emotionally true. Much of the conversation preceding their return centered around the question, “Will James Murphy be James Murphy again?” Night in and night out, Murphy steps back onto the stage like a prize-fighter, wrestling between the weight of his legacy versus the urge to fade away into obscurity. Murphy sings like an old man lost at sea, hoping to find a north star. He painstakingly looks back at who he once was as he sings, “I used to dance alone on my own volition,” and inevitably yields to the crushing present: “I’m still trying to wake up.” Murphy keeps his eyes shut for most of the set, and addresses the crowd mainly to ask that our phones stay in our pockets – a request that was initially perceived as an act of vanity but turned out to be a plea for self-preservation. By the end of the night, however, Murphy triumphantly climbs on top of his monitors to tower over the audience as he sings, “To tell the truth, this won’t be the last time.” There’s an exhale of relief coming from the grizzled veteran of days long gone, and we share in that great release.

In an interview with BBC6 Music, James Murphy recounts a conversation he had with the Goblin King himself, David Bowie. Murphy was just beginning to consider a reunion and began to vocalize his reservations. Bowie, searching for clarity, asked a simple, piercing question: “Does it make you uncomfortable?” Murphy answered with an unequivocal yes. Bowie retorted, “Good, it should. You should be uncomfortable.” American Dream is a meditation in that discomfort, a realization that ambition is both motivated and hindered by the compulsive fixation with the past. It’s an affirmation that “then” and “now” are not disparate states. Instead, they are parallel to each other, informing the shape of things to come. Such a dialogue is never more present than it is on American Dream’s 12-minute closer, “Black Screen,” a stunning tribute to the man who “fell between a friend and a father,” the aforementioned David Bowie. The song is filled with regret (“I’m bad with people things/But I should have tried more”), vulnerability (“So I stopped turning up/My hands kept pushing down in my pockets”), and longing (“You could be anywhere/On the black screen”). Yet, while the song begins to fade out, a sonic ocean of bloom offers a respite from the sorrow. A minimalist pulse akin to a heartbeat fills the space, with a delicate minor refrain echoing from a piano, as if it’s trying to speak in a circular language. It feels like a promise of a rebirth. It feels like a commitment to thrive in the uncanny. It feels like a weary, older man, whistling in the dark, ready to step down from his rooftop.

Eric Han
Eric Han is a NYC-based photographer. See his work at www.kengjuan.net.

LCD Soundsystem is still trying to wake up as their 22 show Brooklyn Steel run comes to an end

William Miller, a prosperous 18th-century farmer, went from regional obscurity to national notoriety when he claimed that the Earth would be scorched in flames by the Second Coming of Jesus. With a penchant for detail, he provided a specific date for impending hellfire and brimstone: October 22nd, 1844. His followers, earnest and devout, draped themselves in white and gathered on rooftops, believing that higher ground will bring them closer to their personal rapture.

Compelled by apocalypse dreams, it’s not a far cry to assume that Miller and his followers were obsessed with endings; or, at least, with the control that comes with closure. We are all burdened with the mandate to make life meaningful, all while not knowing how long we got to make it so. Time, we discover, is our enemy. Time is an emotional terrorist. Time is “finite, but shit, it feels like forever.”

James Murphy, the wine-drinking, krautrock-loving, cowbell-advocating “fat guy in a tuxedo” is not a messiah, or a prophet, or (if you see it this way) a snake oil salesman. But the same preoccupation with endings that drove Miller to stand up on rooftops also drove Murphy into the seemingly voluntary death of his era-defining dance/rock outfit, LCD Soundsystem. On April 2nd, 2011, after a trio of records that dispatched the passion and angst of growing old, Murphy and his band of outsiders performed a three-hour elegy signaling the end of a once-obscure millennial vitality. As Murphy’s followers, all adorned in white, climbed up to their proverbial rooftop to receive their last rites at Madison Square Garden, there was a palpable sense that this self-inflicted ending was premature. At this point, the spotlight was never so centered on LCD Soundsystem. Murphy was touted as a genius by the media intelligentsia, evidenced by prominent features in revered “best” of lists – most notably, “All My Friends” was named the second best song of the decade by Pitchfork.

An average person would likely find recognition to be, at the very least, reassuring. But Murphy considers too many big ideas to find such reassurances nothing but pedestrian. Legacy, expectations, nostalgia, mortality – just a sample of the sensibilities that Murphy spent years mulling over, both in the art he created and in his finely curated public persona. These same big ideas can drive a sane person mad, and for the many quirks that Murphy is proud of, madness is not one of them. Hyper self-aware that his storied romance with prestige is more fleeting than stable, Murphy decided that sometimes the noblest thing a person can do is to climb up on the roof, clad themselves in white, and wait to self-destruct.

Part of our preoccupations with endings is that it’s rare to experience what comes after. Do we sit in white space, satisfied with what we’ve left behind? Or do we impatiently struggle with accepting finality? James Murphy’s professional afterlife was steeped in bold, but familiar, ambition. Accepting finality manifested into producing a daring record about existence and afterlife for a band most famously known for an album titled Funeral; opening a communal, yet lavish, wine bar in hipster-mecca Williamsburg aptly named, The Four Horsemen; and collaborating with a rock deity, David Bowie, for what turned out to be his self-authored eulogy. Even in his afterlife, Murphy was still surrounded by the culture he helped foster, all while being enveloped by the preoccupation he attempted to leave behind.

So when Murphy announced that the second coming of LCD Soundsystem was arriving a mere five years after Madison Square Garden, a portion of his audience played the role of Doubting Thomas. Angry and in disbelief, this return was met with pessimistic charges of “cashing in.” Even more severe, a comeback was seen as antithetical to the fabric of LCD Soundsystem. Would songs about youth without youth, time and consciousness, and “late era, middle-aged ramblings” mean anything to an audience that has buried those sentiments in a nostalgic past? Murphy, displaying his brand of wry self-awareness, responded with a mea culpa. “It needs to be better than anything we’ve done before…and we have to play better than we’ve ever played, frankly.” In other words, such a return needed to be justified. There was an acknowledged tension, one defined by an audience that demands entertainment that is challenging and cathartic, but accessible too. Murphy needed to be authentic, but not nostalgic; deliberate, but not trite. American Dream, the band’s fourth full-length album, is the result of that tension, and Murphy dove straight in.

Sonically, American Dream sits comfortably within the borders of what we have come to expect. The record is bursting with familiar motifs of electronic dance music, with its bigger-than-life bombast, as it collides against the towering canon of once-revered art-rock heroes. Those heroes, many of whom have recently departed, loom large, from the lush lullaby of “Oh Baby” paying tribute to Suicide’s nihilistic time bomb “Dream Baby Dream,” to the seething catharsis of “Call The Police” mirroring the melancholy drive of Berlin-era Bowie. It’s no surprise that a band that never attempted to conceal their influences deliver a votive to the pillars they’ve left behind. What is surprising, though, is that, more so than any of their previous work, there is a distinction between how the record sounds and how the record feels. The pliable and erratic energy of their previous records remains in light, but these pillars of Murphy’s fallen heroes are no longer just sonic foundations for which to stand on; they play an essential thematic impetus for Murphy’s reawakening. For the first time, James Murphy feels old, and consequently, American Dream feels like a ghost is being born.

LCD Soundsystem’s three previous records were reflections of Murphy’s idiosyncratic inner-monologue saturated with questions about fading youth and generational alienation. If “Losing My Edge,” Murphy’s first song, posited the questions of “Who am I?” and “Where do I belong?”, then “Home,” the last song on what was supposed to be their final album, provided an answer: “If you’re afraid of what you need/Look around you/You’re surrounded/It won’t get any better.” There is contentment in James’ voice, and during a time where “indie rock” was starting to feel like “versions of versions of others repeating,” it made sense to call the whole thing off. American Dream, on the other hand, is still filled with yearning, but not for an iteration of himself he has abandoned; instead, it’s for the changes, often amorphous and radical, that come after contentment. For Murphy, the central function of his work is no longer to repeatedly ask, “what happened?”, but to have the perspective to question, “what now?”

If the release of a new record carried a burden of lofty expectations, then their reputation as a live act shared that same weight. In support of American Dream, the band embarked on a world tour, headlining a flurry of festivals, as well as selling out small to medium-sized clubs across the globe, including 22 shows at the newly minted Brooklyn Steel. The ubiquity of the band gave many of their followers, including me, permission to spark their inner Phish-fan (in 2017 alone, I’ve seen the band nine times, in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and even Austin to balance out my cosmopolitan bias). The more cynical side of me would categorize these shows as a “greatest hits” run, with much of their highlights replicating what worked during their This is Happening tour back in 2011; though the moment the disco ball scatters drops of silver across the audience, such considerations cease to matter. Murphy and company still retain the frenetic force typically reserved for a much younger and reckless band, but carry themselves with a swagger that only experience can foster. Every beat precisely on time; every move executed with careful specificity. LCD Soundsystem prioritizes a sense of professionalism that more flamboyant, star-focused acts tend to disregard. From the constant pulse of “Get Innocuous!” to the pit-opening frenzy of “Movement,” the band knows how to put on a show that permits us to sweat out our frustrations.

Though, technical prowess alone cannot explain what’s most compelling. There’s something about watching James Murphy, now 47 years old, with a Sennheiser microphone in hand, stepping into an amber red spotlight each night that rings emotionally true. Much of the conversation preceding their return centered around the question, “Will James Murphy be James Murphy again?” Night in and night out, Murphy steps back onto the stage like a prize-fighter, wrestling between the weight of his legacy versus the urge to fade away into obscurity. Murphy sings like an old man lost at sea, hoping to find a north star. He painstakingly looks back at who he once was as he sings, “I used to dance alone on my own volition,” and inevitably yields to the crushing present: “I’m still trying to wake up.” Murphy keeps his eyes shut for most of the set, and addresses the crowd mainly to ask that our phones stay in our pockets – a request that was initially perceived as an act of vanity but turned out to be a plea for self-preservation. By the end of the night, however, Murphy triumphantly climbs on top of his monitors to tower over the audience as he sings, “To tell the truth, this won’t be the last time.” There’s an exhale of relief coming from the grizzled veteran of days long gone, and we share in that great release.

In an interview with BBC6 Music, James Murphy recounts a conversation he had with the Goblin King himself, David Bowie. Murphy was just beginning to consider a reunion and began to vocalize his reservations. Bowie, searching for clarity, asked a simple, piercing question: “Does it make you uncomfortable?” Murphy answered with an unequivocal yes. Bowie retorted, “Good, it should. You should be uncomfortable.” American Dream is a meditation in that discomfort, a realization that ambition is both motivated and hindered by the compulsive fixation with the past. It’s an affirmation that “then” and “now” are not disparate states. Instead, they are parallel to each other, informing the shape of things to come. Such a dialogue is never more present than it is on American Dream’s 12-minute closer, “Black Screen,” a stunning tribute to the man who “fell between a friend and a father,” the aforementioned David Bowie. The song is filled with regret (“I’m bad with people things/But I should have tried more”), vulnerability (“So I stopped turning up/My hands kept pushing down in my pockets”), and longing (“You could be anywhere/On the black screen”). Yet, while the song begins to fade out, a sonic ocean of bloom offers a respite from the sorrow. A minimalist pulse akin to a heartbeat fills the space, with a delicate minor refrain echoing from a piano, as if it’s trying to speak in a circular language. It feels like a promise of a rebirth. It feels like a commitment to thrive in the uncanny. It feels like a weary, older man, whistling in the dark, ready to step down from his rooftop.

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