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‘Sound Of Silver’: How LCD Soundsystem Brought Disco Home
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In Depth

‘Sound Of Silver’: How LCD Soundsystem Brought Disco Home

Forcing the US to contribute to the global dance-music phenomenon it had instigated, ‘Sound Of Silver’ was LCD Soundsystem’s richest work yet.

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LCD Soundsystem’s acclaimed, Grammy-nominated electro-rock double-album, Sound Of Silver, was released in 2007 by the influential post-punk revival label DFA. The follow-up to the group’s self-titled 2005 debut album, it gave James Murphy and co a chance to focus on creating a record intended as a body of work in and of itself, as opposed to the collection of scattered singles that had made up its predecessor.

Listen to ‘Sound Of Silver’ here.

Years ahead of the curve

Featuring their raison d’être-defining calling card, Daft Punk Is Playing At My House, LCD Soundsystem’s debut had gone some way towards redressing the balance of a US guitar-band scene that had been slow to take influences from dance music fully to its heart. The UK had already seen a couple of waves of such bands since the 80s, but here was a stateside group taking elements from electronica and combining them with indie-style songwriting – often focusing on endless parties wearing thin with age, but nevertheless pulling you back in.

LCD Soundsystem also had a different take on the music business: years ahead of the curve, the band streamed the entirety of Sound Of Silver for free via the then dominant musicians’ platform MySpace. Released on 12 March 2007, the album also received extensive download sales, and sailed to the top of Billboard’s dance chart.

“Songs with heart and soul”

Sound Of Silver opens as it means to go on, with the electronic drums of the shuffly Get Innocuous!, whose rising riff acknowledges a debt to Kraftwerk’s 1978 single The Robots, while Murphy’s vocals come in part from Spandau Ballet frontman Tony Hadley’s playbook. The song was also treated to a long, chunky Soulwax remix, starting straight in with the Kraftwerk hook and bringing the vocals of Murphy’s singing partner, Nancy Whang, to the fore. The funky release of the slightly bitter breakup song Time To Get Away follows. A complementary, if slightly sparser, remix from Gucci Soundsystem was also worked up for one of the album’s B-sides.

Lifted as Sound Of Silver’s lead single, the ultimate apologetic hipster anthem, North American Scum, punctured the UK Top 40 with its self-effacing humour. Bolstered with handclaps from Marcus Lambkin, aka another DFA act, Shit Robot, the song also found James Murphy unleashing a falsetto The Darkness’ Justin Hawkins would have been proud of. As befitting the single’s video, its remixes included a spacey retool from Kris Menace, while LCD Soundsystem themselves provided a gritty, wildly acidic dub. When the group disbanded, in 2011, Arcade Fire joined them onstage for a celebratory live rendition of the song, completing the circle of US indie-rock royalty.

Friendships and frayed love affairs

In contrast to Time To Get Away, the throbbing, juddering Someone Great sees Murphy on the wrong end of the breakup, offsetting the song’s emotional with the faux innocence of a glockenspiel line that seems like a nod to Sunday Morning, by previous New York City legends The Velvet Underground.

Sound Of Silver’s epic, much-loved second single, All My Friends, is a song about friendships that resembles a song about a frayed love affair. Extending the association with LCD Soundsystem’s art-rock forebears, it was covered for single release by the Velvets’ John Cale, with another take coming from Scottish kindred spirits Franz Ferdinand (in a version produced by Erol Alkan, from London’s famous Trash club). It also attracted a sleazy remix by Balearic legend DJ Harvey. Highlighting a riff that felt like an off-kilter version of Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain, the song’s video also had Murphy paying his respects to another glam legend and channelling his inner Ziggy Stardust with some Transformers-like face paint; Murphy and David Bowie later worked together on the latter’s final album, Blackstar.

Disco comes home

The lengthy, cowbell-enhanced Us V Them follows on the album. Bringing to mind the disco perfection of Sylvester’s Over And Over, it inspired an even longer, more laidback remix. Both this song and Watch The Tapes continue Sound Of Silver’s dizzying tour of messy nights out, while the slightly Balearic title track’s spiralling chant captures the way people look back at their teenage years with both longing and a shudder of recognition. An appropriately pumping remix of the latter, from Detroit legend Carl Craig, connected the song with classic 80s Chicago house.

The album ends with the self-explanatory New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, which takes things back to Murphy’s 90s roots, even featuring guitar from A Justin Chearno, a regular from indie-pop label Teen-Beat. The song also features piano from Morgan Wiley of Hercules And Love Affair and cello and violin from Jane Scarpantoni and Lorenza Ponce, among other guests.

Praised by the NME for featuring “songs with heart and soul” that will “keep you hooked long after the beats have worn you out”, Sound Of Silver has, indeed, outlived the post-punk-influenced indie-dance scene that bore it. Forcing the US to capitulate to the global dance-music phenomenon that it had originally instigated in the lofts and clubs of New York City, the record has since been sampled by Kid Cudi and EDM legend A-Trak.

Disco was home again, and Sound Of Silver led the way.

‘Sound Of Silver’ Track-By-Track: A Guide To Every Song On The Album

Get Innocuous!

Beginning with a steady beat built out of sounds from a Yamaha CS-60 keyboard, Get Innocuous! cleverly interpolates Kraftwerk’s The Robots to pull listeners into LCD Soundsystem’s cybernetic world. Lyrically, James Murphy seems to be addressing his disenchantment with the levels of fame the group’s debut album had brought him, as well as his concern about being pawns in the chess game of the music industry. “When once you had believed it, now you see it’s sucking you in,” he sings in a haunting Bowie-esque baritone, “To string you along with the pretence/And pave the way for the coming release.” Lathering the rhythm with Eye Of The Tiger-like chugging guitar tones while Nancy Whang speak-sings on top (“You can normalise/Don’t it make you feel alive?”), Get Innocuous! is a simple yet infectious tone-setter.

Time To Get Away

Reflecting Murphy’s love of 80s pop, there’s a touch of Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean to drummer Patrick Mahoney’s playing on Time To Get Away, adding staccato synths to a funky clavinet groove. Many have assumed the song is about escaping an ex-girlfriend, but Murphy has said it is in fact an embittered kiss-off to his former manager (“It’s time to get away from you/I’m dying to get away”). Positively blessed with winding bass work, it’s a song that effortlessly fuses the propulsive nature of dance music with the fluidity of 70s funk, with Murphy responding to hooting backing vocals by expressing his desire to start again. As it winds down, we hear some tightly coiled post-punk guitar riffs delivered with metronomic perfection, proving that Time To Get Away was made with a clockmaker’s precision.

North American Scum

A riotous social commentary on anti-Americanism across the globe in the wake of 9/11, North American Scum sees Murphy address the feather-ruffling he witnessed while touring Europe. Wryly acknowledging how LCD Soundsystem’s British musical influences may have caused some confusion over the band’s identity (“For those of you who still think we’re from England/We’re not, no”), Murphy jitters with David Byrne-esque mania as he lambasts those springing to false judgements. “I hate the feelin’ when you’re looking at me that way ’cause we’re North Americans,” he sings, “but if we act all shy, it’ll make it OK.” Immersed in a driving beat and a killer guitar riff, Murphy is clever enough not to give any answers to the predicament of being an American in the modern world, opting instead to pull from the punk playbook by reclaiming the word “scum” as a badge of honour.

Someone Great

With melancholic synths and glockenspiel conveying grief and loss, Someone Great is believed by many to be a tribute to Murphy’s former therapist Dr George Kamen, who died in 2006 and for whom Sound Of Silver was dedicated. Though that is, indeed, likely to be the case, it’s worth pointing out that Murphy has never admitted as much in interviews. “I just think it’s unnecessary because it’s personal,” he told The Quietus in 2010. Nevertheless, the song’s lyrics hint at being in a dark place and missing the ear of a close confidante. “I wish that we could talk about it,” Murphy sings, “but there, that’s the problem/With someone new I couldn’t start it/Too late, for beginnings.” Cathartic and deeply touching, Someone Great brings depth and complexity to an electro-pop ballad in true LCD Soundsystem style.

All My Friends

Recipients of the post-punk baton in the 2000s, LCD Soundsystem unsurprisingly took their cues from a certain late-70s Manchester band. “All My Friends is purposefully trying to chase a feeling that I got from Joy Division’s Transmission,” Murphy said in an interview with Mojo in 2007. “Because it’s the same thing the whole way through, and without any kind of embarrassing rockist gesture.” What sets the song apart, however, is its piano-bashing hook and Murphy’s lyrics, which address the fleeting nature of life and friendship, as well as the sobering reality of growing old. Painting a vivid picture of lost friends and bittersweet memories, All My Friends has been embraced as an indie anthem that soundtracks that moment in adulthood when you realise you’re at risk of being set adrift (“It comes apart/The way it does in bad films/Except the part/Where the moral kicks in”).

Us V Them

The pulsing, electro-pop workout Us V Them chimes perfectly with Murphy’s post-punk streak, coasting on danceable beats and jittery synths with lyrics seemingly aimed at the clinginess of hangers-on. On the one hand, Murphy is disarmed by all the fuss (“All the smart people wanna talk to you/All the clever people wanna tell you”), making him wish for the cloud to block out the sun to spoil the fun, before apparently contradicting himself by crying out for attention (“If you please, please anyone/Talk to me, talk to me”). To this end, Us V Them could be seen as a catchy yet thought-provoking exploration of how fame tends to make hypocrites out of the best of us, causing us to yo-yo between the spotlight and the shadows. By offering a unique perspective on his own struggles, the song perfectly captures Murphy’s mindset as he navigates his way through the chaos of fan worship.

Watch The Tapes

Mesmerising the listener with a trance-inducing bassline, Watch The Tapes sees Murphy humorously reflect on life in his 20s, before he became successful. Not finding fame until his early 30s, it seems Murphy was no stranger to scraping together an income in regular jobs while cultivating his dream of becoming a working musician. Describing someone mired in office-based drudgery (“Avoid all the plans ’cause we’re making our day jobs/Into a steady career”) while yearning to escape into more hedonistic pursuits (“We all get a little drunk and then we act like apes”), Watch The Tapes takes a look at life as it teeters on the brink of the corporate abyss. For anyone attempting to hold down a job while keeping the flames of creativity alight, it’s an undeniably relatable work of lyrical brilliance.

Sound Of Silver

After deciding that LCD Soundsystem’s debut album was “beige”, Murphy covered the walls of Long View Farm Studio, in Massachusetts, with silver tinfoil and fabric to engineer a chrome-plated change of sonic direction. “I very much like the concept of silver,” he said in an interview with Fact. Channelling the 70s vocal stylings of Brian Eno on Sound Of Silver’s title track, Murphy chants a droll mantra over a bubbling dance rhythm to explore his anxieties about reconciling nostalgia and ageing (“Sound of silver, talk to me/Makes you want to feel like a teenager/Until you remember the feelings of/A real-life emotional teenager/Then you think again”). Shimmering like the aluminium body of an Airstream trailer, Sound Of Silver is a shiny digression into Murphy’s inner conscience.

New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

A love letter to Murphy’s home city, New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down is an engrossing piano ballad that captures the joys, pains and struggles of living in the Big Apple. “I simply wanted to write a love song, but I hate love songs, so I wrote one to the city,” Murphy said in an interview with Earplug. In the days of punk, New York City was a hotbed of criminality and urban decay, but by the mid-2000s, it had cleaned up its act somewhat, with Murphy observing “the cops who were bored once they’d run out of crime”. From the “rat in a cage pulling minimum wage” to the billionaire mayor “now convinced he’s a king”, it’s a testament to Murphy’s abilities as a lyricist that he’s able to convey his acute social observations with a novelist’s eye for detail. One of the best LCD Soundsystem songs, New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down explodes into an arms-aloft indie-rocker, leaving fans in little doubt over the group’s hard-won reputation with a pitch-perfect album closer.

Buy LCD Soundsystem box sets, prints, vinyl and more at the Dig! store.

Original article: 12 March 2021

Updated: 12 March 2023

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