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LCD Soundsystem - Electric Lady Sessions Music Album Reviews

The version of the band that toured behind 2017’s American Dream gathers in the legendary New York studio, giving old songs new life and additional oomph.

Though they mostly sound the same, there are two LCD Soundsystems. There’s the one James Murphy cooks up in private, the one you hear on albums, studio concoctions where one guy plays the glockenspiel, the bongos, the tambourine, the Casio MT-68 and the Casio CT-410V, and sings, too. Other names pepper the liner notes, but Murphy’s sits beside the most instruments, conjuring the image of a studio nerd laying down track after track until everything’s dense and perfect, which it often is. Over the past 17 years, this LCD Soundsystem has served as a sparkling vessel for one guy’s neuroses, threading lines about aging, ennui, and self-loathing into complex webs of disco beats and new wave basslines.

The second band, the one that takes to the stage, has the same lyrics as the first but isn’t really about individual insecurity. Because LCD Soundsystem play dance music, toying with elements of disco and house and new wave, they are always in dialogue with an impression of the crowd and their own interactions. Live, LCD Soundsystem work as a decentralized commune, Murphy the competent yet reluctant leader. He doesn’t typically play instruments onstage; more often than not, he’s just negotiating with the microphone, serving as interlocutor between the band and the audience, softening the barrier between the two.

Electric Lady Sessions, like 2010’s London Sessions, fits this second band in a room and documents the conversation that unfolds among its members. There’s no crowd here, no mass of people singing along with Murphy as on 2014’s The Long Goodbye. There’s just the band that toured behind American Dream, the 2017 record that ended LCD Soundsystem’s self-imposed hiatus. Recorded in the famed New York studio of the same name, this session captures a moment of arresting chemistry among longtime collaborators who sound excited to be playing together again.

LCD Soundsystem’s position as a mouthpiece for a talented, anxious frontman has always created friction with the genres the band absorbs. Disco, at root, springs from the queer collective, from long nights at gay clubs in the early 1970s, when the DJ kept crowds pulsing until sunrise. There’s no consistent history of bedroom disco, no solid pedigree of dance music as a pressure valve for one guy’s intergenerational insecurity. Disco seeks to break down walls around the individual psyche, while Murphy’s sly witticisms and open complaints have often reinforced them. That tension eases when the band plays live. Murphy’s voice rings out not as a narrator presiding over an environment of his own making, but as another instrument as prone to failure and bouts of joy as any other.

The adrenaline bursts that pop up through American Dream—the moments when Murphy breaks from dazed, dreamy synth jams into post-punk existential terror—take on new life and added volume on Electric Lady Sessions. The end of “Emotional Haircut” here might be the heaviest this band has ever gotten. Propelled by Pat Mahoney’s vicious drums, Murphy sounds like he’s ready to sink his teeth into the nearest jugular. “Listen to it now!” he howls, almost buried beneath bandmates, like he has to fight to be heard since he’s no longer the only star of the show.

This dynamic, where Murphy flows along with his band, does wonders for these songs. Most in this session are taken from American Dream—“Call the Police,” “Tonite,” and “Oh Baby” stand out—although a few pop in from This Is Happening and Sound of Silver. In this arrangement, “You Wanted a Hit” loses some of its defensive barbs, shifting attention from Murphy’s sour monologue to playful exchanges between Nancy Whang and Gavin Russom on the keys and group vocals that coalesce at the hook. Smartly, nothing from LCD Soundsystem’s self-titled debut makes the cut; that album’s acidic tone would derail the setlist, which finds the band pushing for moments of spontaneous vulnerability.

Covers of Human League’s “Seconds” and Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” serve as bookends, grounding the record as an explicit reprieve from daily horrors that are not music. “Seconds” touches on the specter of gun violence, with a verse that mentions white knuckles and a shot “heard around the world” and a jarring chorus that insists, “It took seconds of your time to take his life.” The commanding baritones of Murphy and guitarist Al Doyle are gripping. The fast-paced group singalong “Fascist Groove Thang” makes a fun epilogue, the title speaking for itself. And a cover of Chic’s “I Want Your Love” late in the set sees Whang take lead vocals, rounding out LCD’s nod to their formative influences. Their version is tighter and crisper than the original, but it retains Chic’s utopian bent.

On Electric Lady Sessions, LCD Soundsystem strip back and then bone up the grooves that have always made their music work, despite its contradictions. The groove takes precedence over the words, and Murphy gives his studio meticulousness over to the energy of the group. The synths run bright and juicy. The bass sounds like it could knock you out if you stood too close. The drums hit fast and sharp. Murphy slips from his throne as record-geek auteur and dissolves into the group—one musician among many, and better for it.

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