Album Review: LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening

In a world where the next darling child of independent music will probably arrive packaged with a brand new hyphenated genre tag, LCD Soundsystem‘s label seems plain. For almost a decade now James Murphy, mastermind behind the project, has persistently tossed around “dance-punk” to describe his brainchild. Without LCD as a schema for this term, it could mean anything from unintelligible screamed vocals over a penetrating synth bass to a 300 BPM trance instrumental coupled with lyrical brutality. But Murphy and the live show collective he comically describes as a “really good LCD tribute band” in three albums plus a few miscellaneous pieces managed to make LCD Soundsystem completely synonymous with the subgenre. This is Happening couldn’t be a more ample title — providing listeners with a chance to enjoy the third (and possibly final) full-length in the context of a focused and compelling musical career.

Setting the pace, “Dance Yrself Clean” begins with a minimalist drumbeat and Murphy mumbling relationship-oriented meditations. It teases, making it blindingly obvious from its plainness that eventually a party will arrive and all of your mother’s fragile treasures will shatter. Even so, when it finally reaches this moment — only one aggressive snare fill later and there’s a synth bass nastily strutting below a live drumbeat — the song remains in control, allowing Murphy to half-sing half-scream without sounding whiningly desperate.

Pulling off another stunt, Murphy stays classy on a “Suffragette City” like humorous song entitled, “Drunk Girls”. First he drops one-liners. Then he builds up enough confidence for two-liners. But inevitably he surrenders the formula in favor of an emphatically sung chorus as homage to his final say in the matter (“Oh, oh, ohhhhhh, I believe in waking up together”). As the song phases out of its pattern one of the lines gets lost as the background vocals step into the forefront and croon “drunk boys” a few extra times over the lead voice. It’s by far the most accessible track on the record, with a catchy melody and clear structure but everything to love about LCD remains intact.

In the quirky hybrid song of the album, “I Can Change”, Murphy steps into his most impressive vocal stride. He employs an equally powerful bubbling falsetto for “good in the dark” and “hoping and hoping and hoping the feeling goes away”. With a little help from his friends the vocal overdubs he harmonizes throughout the frantic words “never change, never change, never change…” Then, proving any texture is fair game when conveying feelings of desperation and love, the sassily plodding synth line from the verse blossoms into the loud and shrill sidekick to Murphy’s lovesick hero.

The rest is typical LCD. There’s chaotic dance beats that reach so much power that you would think turning up your speakers could shut down your whole city, Murphy’s muffled screaming slashing the surface the entire way through. Then there’s tracks with quick live drumbeats and atmospheric swooning overhead that essentially function as soft ballads. Throughout, Murphy maintains a fine balance between silly and an emotional wreck. The final result is an album that stands proudly alongside the band’s legacy — reaching into every nook and cranny of their territory and in a confident scoop presenting us with a little something they call “dance-punk”.

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