It's Happened: LCD Soundsystem Is Back With 'American Dream'

Sep 1, 2017
Originally published on September 1, 2017 6:27 am

LCD Soundsystem is back. The New York indie band blended dance music and punk rock to critical acclaim in the 2000s. Six years ago, the band announced it was breaking up. The band's legendary farewell shows sold out New York's Madison Square Garden.

But last year, frontman James Murphy announced that more music was on the way. LCD Soundsystem started touring again, playing small venues and huge festivals. And now, the band has released a new album, American Dream.

Music journalist Lizzy Goodman, who chronicled the scene in which LCD Soundsystem emerged in her book Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011, spoke to Rachel Martin about the new album, LCD Soundsystem's return and the attendant controversy. Hear the conversation at the audio link or read an extended, edited transcript below.

Rachel Martin: Let's go back to the aughts, because it's just fun to say "the aughts" — the 2000s, when LCD Soundsystem was blowing up, essentially. How come? What distinguished them so much back then?

Lizzy Goodman: I think you're talking about a moment where there's a lot of cultural change. Internet culture is rising; there's sort of this sense of colliding genres, from literary genres to music genres to film genres. James Murphy and LCD made this very literate rock 'n' roll. It's been described in the book as "music as rock journalism," and I think there's some truth to that. So in that sense, blending the intellectualism of thinking about music with the feeling of a great dance-rock band really connected with people at that time.

So it put out just three albums and the band announced they were breaking up. Why?

Right. Why does James do what he does — a question that many of his collaborators and many journalists have been asking for years. You have to think of him as the ultimate rock scholar. In addition to being a brilliant soundsmith, he knows music incredibly well and is also very self-aware. There was always this sense, from the beginning of LCD, of: "Let's get out before it gets stale," and sort of an awareness of this kind of canon of rock bands that have faded away, instead of the "burnt out" euphemism. And he was very conscious in advance about avoiding that fate.

All right, let's talk about the new album. Is it worth the wait?

[Laughs.] Well, what wait, right? Because we weren't anticipating that they were ever coming back.

That's right, there was no wait!

So sure — Best wait ever, you know? [Laughs.]

Is it any good?

I think it's incredible. The album is gloomier, in an interesting way. It's darker and a little bit heavier than anything they've done before, and certainly than the singles would indicate. I was surprised when I actually heard the whole record and its undercurrent of — I don't know; it's stormy, I'd say. But I like that. It's a stormy time, man. Let's speak truth.

I want to talk about a track that stood out to me as darker, in a way: "how do you sleep?" So that's dark — that, to me, speaks of the darkness.

It sounds like Bauhaus doing the Wizard of Oz soundtrack, or something like that. It's very creatively edgy. It's gloomy, though, for sure.

Is there a track on here that surprised you in any way?

"american dream" is one of my favorites so far — but it has that shimmer, that early 2000s [feeling of] "let's find the tiny club that's probably going to collapse upon us tonight, where they're playing The Smiths into Public Enemy into Kraftwerk." That's what it sounds like, that cast back to a sunnier time, ironically. It's ironic to say that a band born in the shadow of 9/11 was speaking of a sunnier time in that moment, but I think you feel the contrast between that track and ["how do you sleep?"] — almost a kind of sonic triptych of the years that have spanned between those two things.

Earlier you said LCD Soundsystem is "music as rock journalism." What do you mean?

I'm always like: James could just do my job. He really does understand the canon of rock scholarship, in addition to the themes that we see music introduce into the literature of our culture and that space. And I think this is music commenting on life.

So has he talked at all about why he felt like he wanted to bring LCD Soundsystem back?

He has. People have been asking him that question a lot; he's answered in a couple of different ways. Some of them have gotten him into some trouble, in terms of the way people have read his quotes: the idea of some sort of grand plan to manipulate fans into coming to the final show, like it's a long game that he's playing ... and six years later, you're gonna get the joke? I mean, there is a kind of controversy around this. A person that I would describe as the same guy or girl who's in the record store,"I don't want anyone else to know about The Modern Lovers," the arms crossed, cranky rock fan, to me is the one who is like, "Oh my god, I can't believe they're getting back together, that's so cheap!"

You don't feel that way?

I do not feel that way. Here's my thing: If you are an LCD fan, and your argument is it's a betrayal for them to be playing, how do those two things compute? If you're an LCD fan and your argument is "please don't play" — [laughs] how does that hold water, just on a purely philosophical level?

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In the early 2000s, the New York band LCD Soundsystem blended dance music and punk to critical acclaim. They put out three beloved records. And then in 2011, the band broke up. Singer James Murphy and the rest of the group said goodbye in a sold out show at New York's Madison Square Garden.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Unintelligible).

MARTIN: Well, apparently, the band has changed their mind because LCD Soundsystem is back. They've got a new album out called "American Dream." With us to talk about the band's legacy and their new album is music journalist Lizzy Goodman. She is the author of "Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001-2011." Hey, Lizzy. Welcome to the show.

LIZZY GOODMAN: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: Let's go back to the aughts because it's just fun to say the aughts. The 2000s, when LCD Soundsystem was blowing up, essentially...

GOODMAN: Yes.

MARTIN: ...What distinguished them so much back then?

GOODMAN: I think that you're talking about a moment where Internet culture is rising. There's sort of this sense of colliding genres. James Murphy made this very sort of literate rock and roll. So that sense of blending the intellectualism of thinking about music with the feeling of a great dance rock band really connected with people.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVEMENT")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) It's like a discipline without the discipline of all the discipline. It's like a culture without the effort of all the culture.

MARTIN: Because he was approaching music as - not an outsider. I mean, he was a creative force in music. But he was a producer. And he had set up this label. And he had this kind of holistic approach to music.

GOODMAN: Exactly. And the rock star incarnation of all that was sort of the last thing to come around for James Murphy. So it was, like - now we think of these people that do all of those things as sort of standard.

MARTIN: Yeah.

GOODMAN: But at the time, having your own record label, producing a bunch of songs for other people, and then sort of, oh, yeah, I guess I'll also form my own band now was pretty revolutionary (laughter).

MARTIN: So they put out just three albums. And then the band announced that they were breaking up. Why?

GOODMAN: Right. Why does James do what he does - a question that many of his collaborators and many journalists have been asking for years. I mean, you have to think of him as the ultimate rock scholar. Like, in addition to being a brilliant sort of soundsmith (ph), he knows music incredibly well and is also very self-aware.

And there was always a sense from the beginning of LCD of let's get out before it gets stale and sort of an awareness of the kind of canon of rock bands that have faded away, shall we say, instead of burnt out.

MARTIN: All right, let's talk about the new album. Is it worth the wait?

GOODMAN: Well, what wait - right? - because we weren't anticipating they were ever coming back.

MARTIN: That's right. There was no wait.

GOODMAN: (Laughter).

MARTIN: Is it any good?

GOODMAN: I think it's incredible. I mean...

MARTIN: Oh, really?

GOODMAN: Yeah. I do. It's gloomier in an interesting - like, it's darker and a little bit heavier. But I like that. It's a stormy time, man. Let's speak truth.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HOW DO YOU SLEEP?")

LCD SOUNDSYSTEM: (Singing) Standing on the shore, watching for you.

MARTIN: Yeah. So that's dark.

GOODMAN: I think it sounds like Bauhaus doing the "Wizard Of Oz" soundtrack or something like that (laughter).

MARTIN: So has he talked at all about why he felt like he wanted to bring LCD Soundsystem back?

GOODMAN: He has. I mean, people have been asking him that question a lot. And I think he's answered it in a couple of different ways. Some of them have gotten him into some trouble in terms of the way people have read his quotes - the idea of some sort of grand plan to manipulate fans into coming to the final show. And then like...

MARTIN: Psych.

GOODMAN: It's a long game. It's a long game he's playing if that's what's going on. It's like, and guess what? Six years later, you're going to get the joke, right? I mean, it's just - here's my thing. If you're an LCD fan and your argument is it's a betrayal for them to be playing, how do those two things compute?

MARTIN: That seems silly. It just seems silly.

GOODMAN: How does that hold water just on a purely philosophical level?

MARTIN: Lizzy Goodman is the author of "Meet Me In The Bathroom: Rebirth And Rock And Roll In New York City 2001-2011." We've been talking about LCD Soundsystem and their new album. Hey, Lizzy, thank you so much.

GOODMAN: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF LCD SOUNDSYSTEM'S "I USED TO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.