Last month, as I was preparing for battle, I was surprised to find just how many electronic and dance music I was considering for inclusion in the Spin Doctors’ arsenal. I used to be one of those people who said that I listened to “everything but rap and country” (thankfully, I’ve remedied both of these tragic flaws), but you could have easily added dance music to that list as well.
This, I suppose, is a common shortcoming of the young rockist. Most straight white boys have little interest (or talent) in dancing that didn’t involve at least a slim chance of getting some first base action. We listened to music with loud guitars, aggressive lyrics, and 4/4 drums. Dance music was something that those lame pill poppers who went to raves listened to; the joke was that the reason that drug and rave culture overlapped is because only someone high on something could possibly enjoy such derivative, repetitive music.
I still hold some of this bias – a party I was at this past weekend featured some rather mind-numbing dance remixes played over and over again – but thankfully my perspective is a little more enlightened. The way that people like me get over our dismissive attitudes about musical genres is by discovering gateway artists, ones who may make “dance” or “rap” music, but who combine it with elements of music that is more palatable to our preconceptions. In rap you have pop-influenced superstars like Kanye West and Outkast. In country you have alt-country icons like Neko Case and Uncle Tupelo (early Wilco too).
And in dance music, you have LCD Soundsystem.
What makes the Soundsystem’s music so accessible to a rockist audience is that frontman James Murphy actually wants to make albums. Yes, he first made his mark through a series of stellar singles (one of which – “Losing my Edge” – made it to number three on Pitchfork’s list of the 100 best singles from 2000-2004). But what stood out about LCD Soundsystem’s first self-titled album is how broad it sounded. It didn’t just aim for the dance floor – tracks like the Beatles-esque ballad “Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up” and the slowburner “Too Much Love” suggested that Murphy wanted to make an album for the living room too, one that ebbed and flowed and evolved as it went along (not to mention all the guitars and pianos he used in the instrumentation, further broadening the album’s appeal).
The promise shown in that debut is fully realized with Sound of Silver, deserving of the praise it’s received as one of this year’s best albums. There’s no ruts, no dives or filler through its 55 concise minutes. From opener “Get Innocuous!,” which sounds just like if the Talking Heads woke up in 2007 and made a club track, to the piano-ballad closer “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” Sound of Silver is irresistibly charming.
Part of the charm is Murphy himself. He doesn’t sing like many dance singers, electronicized and distorted; instead, he sounds like a rock star. Murphy chants and moans witha wonderfully sarcastic bravado, ensuring that the vocals are as entertaining as the beats. His lyrics remain tongue-and-cheak, as critical of hipsters and scenesters as he ever was and extending his love/hate dynamics to foreign relations with the album’s first single “North American Scum.”
But the album’s highlight, and the reason why it’s a great album as opposed to merely a good one, is the two songs that serve as Sound of Silver’s centerpiece. Turning off the bravado, Murphy gives us two pieces as emotional and powerful as anything on your most impassioned rock and roll record. “Someone Great,” based off a riff from the band’s Nike project of last year, expands into a breakup song that loses none of its heartbreaking impact by having synthesizers instead of guitars. It’s followed by “All My Friends,” one of the most exhilarating pieces of music I’ve heard all year. It sounds like an impassioned night on the town, the piano driving along at running speed and begging to be played out of a car window as loud as humanly possible (too bad the new video doesn’t match its sense of motion – although it has its own charms).
As a recovering rockist, there’s still a part of me that feels a bit self conscious about blasting a dance song out the car window. But fuck it, I tell myself, music is music. The instruments that are used mean nothing; the passion is everything. Artists that pour every ounce of their blood, sweat and tears into their work deserve to be championed, cheered and cranked out of moving vehicles, regardless of the labels we give them. Sound of Silver simply sounds good.