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Triple Take: LCD Soundsystem's 'Sound Of Silver'

Album reviews are the bread and butter of music criticism. However, often so much of a review is spent talking about the musician, or the circumstances of the recording process that the actual songs on the record don’t get the discussion they deserve. Triple Take examines a string of 3 songs on an album, how they fit together, and how they fit on the record as a whole.

After the sold out farewell show at MSG, and the general canonization of LCD Soundsystem, it’s important to remember that James Murphy had to earn his place in the pantheon. While “Losing My Edge” now looks like the scene shattering big-bang that started it all, in 2002 it sounded like a fun, one-off novelty (one of the greatest one-off novelties ever written, but a novelty none the less).

Three years later LCD’s self titled debut made a sizable splash, but the record was only intermittently great, and relied heavily on compiling previously released singles. While their second album was eagerly anticipated, James Murphy was still just one misfire away from being told he should stick to producing.

All this became moot when LCD Soundsystem released Sound Of Silver in March of 2007. An instant classic, it vaulted the group to the stratosphere of indie rock, and made them the de-facto leaders of the blooming Williamsburg scene. While the album is a top to bottom classic, it’s the third, fourth, and fifth tracks that define the record. It’s a completely subjective statement but I’d be willing to say it’s as great as any three song run on any album. Ever.

The sequence starts with “North American Scum.”  A droning organ and programmed drum tick sound things off. Murphy brandishes his signature cynical wit, “to those of you who still think we’re from England, we’re like, no.” he states blandly, before the monster chorus blows the song apart. He spends 5 minutes (that always feel like two and a half) sarcastically berating both American and European identity over one of the great dance punk instrumentals of all time, with just enough sincerity to pull it off. “North American Scum” is that dickish wine-drunk friend who is so much fun you don’t even notice what a jerk he is. In other words it’s the perfect rock song for post-Bloomberg New York.

“Someone Great” fades in with an analog synth loop so sweet and reassuring it’s almost prenatal. The song builds warmer and warmer keyboard loops on one another as the drum machine ticks, and just as the frame of the song becomes apparent, that gorgeous, razor sharp melody arrives. “Someone Great” was previewed as an instrumental section on the 45:33 compilation LCD Soundsystem did for Nike the previous year, and it makes sense. If “Someone Great” isn’t the prettiest synth song ever recorded, it’s sure in the ballpark.

What makes the song that much greater, then, is how Murphy’s haunting vocals set a human story to the melody. What exactly has gone wrong in the protagonists life is unclear, but whether it was a spouse, child, or anything else, someone is clearly missing from his life. Biting details (“The coffee isn’t even bitter…you’re smaller than my wife imagined”) drive the dagger that much deeper, while the music fills in the blanks. If “North American Scum” was Murphy reminding everyone how fun LCD Soundsystem could be, “Someone Great” was him showing us just how effective he can be when he gets serious.

And then there’s “All My Friends.”  Without a doubt one of the greatest song of the ’00s, it has justifiably entered the pantheon of soundtracks for last nights out and first nights back. Starting as a jagged piano loop, the song never actually changes it’s pace, yet somehow speeds up beyond explanation.

As drums, bass and guitar fade in, Murphy speaks wistfully yet bitterly about his life. He blows 85 days in the middle of France, forgets what he meant when he read what he said, and wouldn’t change one stupid decision for another five years of life, but what does it all add up to? We work so we can live, but at some point we realize that “living” isn’t what we want, but it’s too late to stop it now. While this is familiar territory, Murphy imbues it with a personal touch, both optimistic and regretful. As he screams “where are your friends tonight!?” The song crescendos, and for that instant, life seems to be purely about the here and now, because if nothing else, it’s a damn good question.

The rest of Sound Of Silver is great, if perhaps a bit of a comedown from this three song sequence. LCD Soundsystem would go on to release their final album in 2010, and retire as possibly the best all around band, both live and recorded, of the new millennium. Listening to these three songs now is still as enjoyable and thrilling as it was the first time around. Enjoyable because the songs are damn near perfect, and thrilling because you are hearing one of the all time greats reach the peak of their potential.

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