LCD Soundsystem - This Is Happening First Listen
Rhian Daly 18/04/2010
One of the hotly anticipated records of 2010, LCD Soundsystem's third album and follow up to Sound of Silver is finally finished and nearly with us. After James Murphy seemed to tempt fate by pleading with a crowd in New York not to leak This Is Happening, someone went and did just that. DFA have responded with a legal stream of the LP, which GIITTV's Albums Editor Rhian Daly has used to see whether we've been right to spend our nights dreaming of this release or if we should concentrate on something more worthwhile. Here follows a track-by-track first listen of the record...
Dance Yrself Clean
In keeping with his status as one of the coolest cats in the music business right now, James Murphy opts to drop those unnecessary vowels from the first syllable of 'yourself'. Dig. It's a deceptively quiet start to the great man's possible last album, gradually adding new layers between verses only to strip them back to synth stabs and tribal drum beats when the sing song vocals return. And then BOOM! Welcome back, familiar territory of old. We're back at usual groove-busting decibels and treated to Murphy's trademark strained voice. “Go and dance yrself clean”, he commands before messing with the dynamics even more. We're urged to “wait until the weekend and we can make all of our dreams come true” with so much intensity you're almost inclined to create a new do-what-James-Murphy-tells-me alarm on iCal.
Fading out with the same sparse arrangements as at the start, a barely audible Murphy mumbles “I wish you'd try a little harder”. So far, the same can't be wished of him.
Whipping up interest in This Is Happening with its appearance in cyberspace a few weeks ago, 'Drunk Girls' already feels like an old friend. Essentially the 'North American Scum' of this record, its like Damon Albarn taking aim at college frat parties instead of Club 18-30 piss ups in Ibiza. Repetitive chants of the title make this easily imaginable as a total anthem for anyone who spends this summer passing out in muddy fields after a day's hard drinking and dancing.
More electronic and dance-focused (as opposed to getting the masses singing-centric), 'One Touch' finds Murphy putting in ominous tone, but just how menacing he can actually be when singing “One touch is never enough/People need to move to the back of the bus” is questionable. Beneath, synths and samplers build in chaos before the heavy lusting of “This is getting sorta unreasonable/We've been waiting for such a long time” drops and the whole thing starts to slot into place as a tale of on-the-road sexual frustrations (possibly).
All I Want
Heavy on the guitars, 'All I Want' borrows from fellow NYC bands Amazing Baby (the guitar riff sounds like a less jubilant version of the one found on 'Headdress') and The Strokes to create something of a breather at nearly mid-way through This Is Happening. Still oozing with the natural cool that smothers all LCD's past glories, Murphy croons forlornly “All I want is your pain/All I want is your panties” before crying “Take me home!” like his life depends on it. It might be a song about getting your end away but it feels as if Murphy's laying his soul bare here, making it actually quite a moving centre-piece. Perhaps he also feels this way about it, hence the decision to end with a short comedy piano phrase and the distant voice in the background giving it the thumbs up, as if to say “just kidding, guys!”
I Can Change
If 'Drunk Girls' is 'North American Scum' Mk II, then 'I Can Change' is 'Someone Great'. Here, we find Murphy urging someone to “never change” and sounding utterly loved up. Lyrically, he's at his best, especially with exchanges such as:
'Love is a murderer/But if she calls you tonight/Everything is alright/
Love is a curse/Shoved in a hearse/Love is an open book to a verse/Of your bad poetry/And this is coming from me
You Wanted A Hit
At just over 9 minutes, 'You Wanted A Hit' is the longest track on This Is Happening, opening with shimmering electronics before giving way to a steady, staccato bassline and Murphy sneering “You wanted a hit?/But maybe we don't do hits”, before adding “I try and try/But it always ends up feeling kinda wrong”.
Later, he takes aim at assumedly the indie quarter's penchant for authenticity, truth and clever arrangements before perhaps trying to distance LCD Soundsystem from their position of electro darlings, repeatedly asserting “We won't be your babies anymore”.
In short, You Wanted A Hit is one of the best things LCD have ever put their name to, especially the lyric “You wanted a hit/But what's the point in it?” Quite.
A little reminiscent of Talking Heads' 'Once in a Lifetime' in the vocal delivery, 'Pow Pow' also bears similarities to the work of Eddie Argos and Art Brut. A companion of 'Drunk Girls', it's less immediate and not as likely to provoke mass sinagalongs as the aforementioned should. It should be one of anyone's highlights of the record though for it's namechecking of FACT magazine (we're about 95% sure this is correct) and the boast of “We have a black president and you do not”.
And, of course, the “It's the return of the police!” yelp at the close.
Somebody's Calling Me
The darkest track on the record, 'Somebody's Calling Me' is a mass of barely audible whispers and discordant stabs. With a bassline of the same staccato note repeated continuously, we look to the weird sound effects, eerie synths and Murphy's exasperation at the person calling and texting to “be my girl” to save the song from becoming stagnant.
Breaking with the harsh and unharmonious chords for one verse towards the end, the protaganist seems far happier with his lot, declaring “Somebody's pulling me into their world/Wrapped up and full of good inside their world”.
The final track on This Is Happening, 'Home' starts with what sounds like the demo tracks on keyboards every kid messes about with in school music classes. These give way to a summery closer that sees James Murphy return to his “take me home” sentiment from earlier on in the album.
All evidence points to 'Home' being about hedonism of some form - be it alcohol or drugs - from the line “do it right and you can head into space” to the talk of escaping terrible years and breaking laws “until it gets weird”.
Of course, it could be seen as a final goodbye from LCD Soundsystem, with their music taking the place of the substances used for escapism and making nights better. Murphy warns we “might forget the sound of [their] voices”, perhaps hinting further at the suggestion that once This Is Happening is out in the world, no new LCD releases will follow.
The Verdict: After only one listen, sometimes it's hard to tell whether you're going to still be clutching an album to your heart with such passion and intensity a few months down the long but it seems safe to say with This Is Happening that this writer, at least, will. A progression from Sound of Silver but not veering so wildly from the path as to alienate old fans, if this truly is LCD Soundsystem's last album it will be a sad day indeed, but at least they'll be bowing out at the top of their game.
This Is Happening is released on 17/05 on DFA