17 June 2011

2010: LCD Soundsystem, Lissie

LCD Soundsystem
This Is Happening

Released May 18, 2010(DFA/Virgin)

Short Notes: This may be happening...but is it a good thing?

Lin: B+

I've only recently come to the point where I'm willing to say I like dance and/or electronic music. Part of the reason is exactly what that statement usually implies: I started my musical journey in a much different place and shunned the sounds that didn't correspond with that ethos. But it's also my mostly-quixotic belief that one ought to be able to explain why one likes what one likes and it took awhile for me to feel like I could do that. LCD Soundsystem was one of the gateways for me, though it took me a long time to realize it.

What makes Murphy's first two albums particularly special to me is that they feel like albums: coherent and complete artistic statements, not just a collection of potential singles. Coming from a rock background and having my musical education take place in the (barely) pre-mp3 error, this means a lot. So much of dance music seems to be made for short attention spans, it's nice when music presents a fuller argument.

This is Happening also seems to do this -- definitely to the albums' credit. But it lacks the vitality of the second and, especially, the first. I want my music to grab me and force me to listen to it. A singer needs to have the force of will to convince the listener that they have something to say and that they know what they're talking about. Listen to something like "All My Friends" and you can hear it. Or "New York I Love You" or "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House." I don't hear it on the new one. It sounds too complacent. The "B+" rating is probably too low, given from a place of disappointment: the music here matches that of his earlier work and the lyrics are still top-notch. But it's missing the emotional component that makes it essential.

Brandon: A-

Having listened to this record now almost a dozen times, I think I get why James Murphy decided to end this project and move on. That’s not a commentary on the quality of the record (which is, I think, quite high, if not quite as good as Sound of Silver), but I think you can hear it in the music, in the extended, more meandering songs that make up most of This is Happening. As Lin suggests, this is a much less immediate record than the two previous LCD Soundsystem outings, and excepting the gleeful “Drunk Girls,” there’s not a song under just shy of six minutes long. “You Wanted a Hit,” indeed.

That said, I find this record quite powerful. There’s a lot less tongue-in-cheek flippancy in these songs, which ride dancily along on some real angst. “Pow Pow,” which I think of as one of the album’s standout tracks, juxtaposes the goofiness of the onomatopoetic chorus and throwaway diss lines directed at Village Voice writers with some real self-contemplation--about the perils of he scene, failing relationships, and opening oneself up to new experiences. And the opening track, “Dance Yrself Clean,” is a monster. No one does wry lyrics with minimal beats as well as Murphy, and this is his apotheosis, the distillation of his band’s signature sound into a blurting, thumping, kraut-rock mess of emotion. Murphy’s vocals have never been better than on this track either, as he switches effortlessly from his normal singsong-y delivery to an affecting yelp. All in all, a worthy swansong.

Catching A Tiger

Released August 17, 2010 (Fat Possum)

Short Notes: Sunny, blonde Cali folk-pop-rock that doesn’t really know what it wants to be.

Brandon: B-

After hearing the opening track, the quirky, clanging, poppy “Record Collector,” I had reasonably high hopes for this record. “Record Collector” is an endearing, soaring pop song (if a little overstuffed with ideas that depart from the solid structure of the first minute), with Lissie’s Stevie Nicks-lite vocals focused and taut. But the wheels come off with the second track, the regrettable, limp “When I’m Alone,” and the record becomes something of an eclectic mess.

I don’t know Lissie’s back catalog, although her debut EP got enough buzz to put her on my radar (and thus on the list), but she sounds like an artist who’s either not yet certain of what kind of songwriter/performer she is, or like an artist whose management is deeply misguided. There are at least four producers on the record (including Kings of Leon collaborator Jacquire King and British singer/songwriter Ed Harcourt), and the album veers wildly from piano ballads in a West Coast Regina Spektor mould (“Bully”) to galloping quasi-country (“Little Lovin’), straight pop-country in the Dixie Chicks mould (“Cuckoo”), and the sort of shuffling blues that gets you a deal with Fat Possum (“Needle Starts to Fall”).

“Stranger,” which sounds like a remastered Petula Clark B-side and is one of the stronger tracks, doesn’t even remotely fit with the rest of the album. Although it’s a charming (if slight) pop song, it disrupts the album’s flow, and might have been better served as a single or the lead track of an EP. Nothing here is particularly bad (although “When I’m Alone” and “Oh Mississippi,” co-written by Harcourt and sounding just like a turgid British take on classic American folk balladry, are the weakest links), but none of the good ideas are fully developed, either. I’d be curious to hear a record on which Lissie herself takes control. For what it's worth, the live video I've posted above of "Cuckoo" sounds far better than the album version, and I suspect she's a compelling live performer who's got a shot at making a good record with better direction in the studio.

Lin: C+

Catching a Tiger starts off well enough and I start to think of yet another way to say "it's alright but unspecial." Then it takes a turn for the worse, putting in a couple of totally skippable tracks. The nadir is the inexplicable inclusion of "Stranger" which, at best, sounds like the girl group heyday or, at worst, a Best Coast knock off. It makes no sense in context of the album and takes me out of the listening experience. It's indicative of the album's major problem: it has no ethos or point it's trying to make. It's scattered, but not in the schizophrenic way, which can turn out okay; no, it tries too hard to be everything to everyone (at least in an indie context -- this is no repeat of the Katy Perry album). There's some decent moments here (first single "In Sleep," perhaps, or "Look Away"), but nothing to recommend it over the couple dozen similar but better albums we've also reviewed here.

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