Happening Ever After
James Murphy and his cronies in LCD Soundsystem (and DFA Records, by extension) have spent the majority of this new century tracing the template of the British-German dance-music axis across America. Their self-titled debut used genius grooves to support deadpan humor and prideful calls-and-responses closer to yelling than real lyrics. Those beats moved to the forefront of Sound of Silver, linking variations on rubbery, paranoid electro-funk by Parliament, David Bowie, and Kraftwerk. Their new third album This is Happening manages to tie elements of both efforts into one pretty package.
Few albums will ever match the pitch-perfect Sound of Silver, and This is Happening is certainly more calculated than that and LCD Soundsystem. It almost has to be, as this rumored final LCD album comes as their world gets reshaped like a Jenga tower: Nancy Whang’s been splitting her time between LCD and The Juan Maclean, while Murphy took on the Greenberg soundtrack as a folksy solo project. Tim Goldsworthy left the DFA label and production crew earlier this year in some sort of huff, and when was the last time a DFA mix really made you stop your hipster pogoing and stare at the DJ booth in awe?
Nevertheless, the band can still pack a party’s worth of punch and deliver more than a few moments of brutal honesty and universal aging-hipster truth. “Pow Pow” is free verse and “I Can Change” a more properly structured song, each finding Murphy no longer exclusively promoting himself as uber-cool but paying some lip service to compromise, partnership, and alternate viewpoints. The album’s breakout single “Drunk Girls,” meanwhile, paints pictures of an underside of hot nightlife that’s not so much seedy as it is mundane. You’re still meant to dance to this stuff, but you’re gonna think long and hard about the consequences afterwards.
Oddly enough, here at long last LCD Soundsystem sound in danger of repeating themselves. “All I Want” and “Somebody’s Calling Me” hit their respective Bowie and Iggy Pop touchpoints very hard, and as good as the percolating bass synths and choppy drums of “Get Innocuous” were on Sound of Silver, “One Touch” mimics those a bit too much. But with these missteps comes immediate redemption: “You Wanted a Hit” sneers at pop culture and “Home” features wobbly digital Afropop about social interaction, both in grand Talking Heads tradition. Album opener “Dance Yrself Clean,” meanwhile, finds Murphy musing softly about isolation for three minutes before the drums and keyboards open up wide, playfully epic and inviting.
Early successes like “Losing My Edge” and “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” recounted Murphy building up his street credibility; “All My Friends,” “New York I Love You,” and other Sound of Silver tracks recounted attempts to redeem that for the prize of making up for lost time, or at least saving what time was left. This is Happening acknowledges Murphy’s burgeoning—maybe bloated?—scene and its participants’ inexorable march out of the spotlight, the social death that precedes the physical one. It’s an album that smacks of sand running down the hourglass, and yet nobody ever said fighting quixotic battles against the inevitable couldn’t be made fun.