Welcome to Artist Top Tens, a feature I'm thinking of doing regularly, where I get a chance to go all nerdy over some of my favourite artists of the past and choose ten songs that I enjoy the most, and give the best idea of what they're all about and have to offer.
Having recently announced their farewell I thought the first artist I ought to cover in this new feature is James Murphy's dance punk juggernaut LCD Soundsystem. James Murphy is an ace musician, producer, and co-founder of the mighty DFA Records, and with his musical outlet LCD Soundsystem they changed the way music and it's associated cultures of the new millenium are percieved. The band's three studio albums: LCD Soundsystem (2005), Sound of Silver (2007), and This Is Happening (2010) show the sharpness of Murphy's social awareness, musical knowledge, wit, humour and taste, each one an essential piece of 21st Century cultural history and the western condition, and drawing on virtually all the great art rock, post punk and New Wave musicians to exemplify these observations. Here are the top ten songs (imo), in order of release:
"Losing My Edge" (from LCD Soundsystem, single released July 2002)
This is one of those songs, the ones that could be analysed and discussed endlessly, however we still have nine to go. And the song has been talked about by others in lengthy detail elsewhere, especially in 2002, when LCD decided it would become their first single. It could be said to mark either the birth or death of hipster culture, depending on your viewpoint; it at least took on the issue in new and interesting ways, not only in song form, but more noticeably from a lyrical viewpoint. Murphy, himself constantly mentioning his awareness of his age in interviews, parodies the aged rocker by playing the aged indie kid, proudly reminiscing on his ever-so-slightly invented past: e.g. "I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band. I told him, 'Don't do it that way. You'll never make a dime.'". Cut to the end, where he ends up pushing his love of obscure retro bands in the way music is often talked about even today, by unleashing a fury of name-dropping and referencing, warning his younger peers just how foolish they can seem to the outside world. Oh, and the music’s quality too.
"Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" (from LCD Soundsystem, single released February 2005)
"Tribulations" (from LCD Soundsystem, single released September 2005)
"Someone Great" (from Sound of Silver, single released October 2007)
"New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down" (from Sound of Silver)
"Goodnight Ladies" from Transformer, and "Bring It On Home" from Led Zeppelin II and is hardly an original idea, but it’s fury and uniqueness within LCD's canon make it stand out.
"All My Friends" (from Sound of Silver, single released May 2007)
Franz Ferdinand and no less than the Velvet Underground’s John Cale, however try as they might neither can surpass James Murphy’s original. There are as many great quotable lyrics here as there are on "Losing My Edge" and in many ways the song readdresses the issues found there, namely separation from an unsympathetic world. For me the best line here has to be the last, "If I could see all my friends tonight", with it’s obscurity of meaning and definition. Like the piano this choice may be mundane in it’s predictability but remains one of the few constants of this list.
"Drunk Girls" (from This Is Happening, single released May 2010)
"North American Scum" in being fun, anarchic and simple in structure and subject. The two syllable hook is "borrowed" from the Velvet Underground’s "White Light/White Heat" (a recurring theme of the album, more on that later), and it’s surprising how this chugging rhythm hasn’t been revived sooner. The one-note piano remains to drive the point home even further. My favourite lyric this time (again out of many) is "Drunk girls know love is an astronaut, it comes back but it’s never the same". The madness and hilarity are exemplified by the brilliant music video directed by Spike Jonze, who seems to think owning the band with pandas is the best way of expressing Murphy’s intentions. Which it like, totally is.
"Dance Yrself Clean" (from This Is Happening)
"I Can Change" (from This Is Happening, single released July 2010)
Blondie’s "Heart Of Glass".
"All I Want" (from This Is Happening)
David Bowie’s "Heroes" , which is a song more timid musicians would consider too sacred to attempt. But this isn’t the only case of such on This Is Happening: we’ve already found the tune behind “Drunk Girls”, but it’s also safe to say that "Home" does a little more than just reference the Talking Heads’ "Naive Melody" ; and hey doesn’t "Somebody’s Calling Me" remind you a little of Iggy Pop’s "Nightclubbing"? Has James Murphy gone back on his word and hoped no-one would notice? Well of course not, LCD are back in social commentary mode again, making This Is Happening perhaps the biggest statement of confusion of the modern times in recent music. “All I Want” is far less than heroic: the chorus’s "All I want is your pity/All I want are your bitter tears" gives Bowie’s original a whole new perspective, especially when Murphy’s voice is lost amongst the screeching slide guitar and sour analog synths, along with his plea "Take me hooome!". Just what that means anymore in this context is anyone’s guess.
Final Comments: LCD Soundsystem really were one of the key bands and true observers of pop culture, and will undoubtedly be remembered as a part of the culture they documented and helped to shape. It’s unknown what the future holds for James Murphy, but my thoughts and hopes are that he will remain as a key figure of DFA Records, and go on to produce for those bands that he has expressed working with, namely Arcade Fire and Spoon. Having read just earlier today that Flaming Lips frontman Wayne Coyne has expressed interest in working with him the future could hold some really interesting music; likewise if Murphy decides to start another project. Even if he hangs up his gloves for good, we’ll still have been fortunate to have experienced the best part of ten years with such a great creative force. And I really did manage to write a whole LCD article without using the word cowbell.
Which songs are your favourite LCD Soundsystem tunes? Have I missed anything?