LCD Soundsystem’s debut album captured the brittle energy of New York City
Original release date: 24 January 2005
Label: DFA Records
There’s an interview on YouTube in which LCD Soundsystem founder James Murphy discusses failure. Or more specifically, he describes his former life as “like really, really, really a failure.” At the end of this decade-long slump, Murphy wrote Losing My Edge, a satirical takedown of musical gatekeepers that affectionately skewered the exact figures it moved on the dancefloors of indie discos worldwide, himself included.
As a teenager, far removed from the peak of Brooklyn hipsterdom, hearing the lyrics of this self-confessed failure was less relatable than oddly aspirational, aided by the helpful call sheet of touchstone acts listed by Murphy in the song itself: “This Heat, Joy Division, Gil! Scott! Heron!”
By the time their self-titled debut arrived via Murphy’s own DFA Records in 2005, LCD Soundsystem were already a formidable live band and the most vital export of a scene that melded dance and rock music from a new, DIY angle. Acknowledging this reputation, the album simply collected some (then) new songs on one disc and a number of live favourites and 12-inch singles on another. It’s an urgent record that feels almost non-canon compared to their ambitious, emotionally rich work later on.
LCD Soundsystem’s best tracks are snotty, tense and feel as indebted to Murphy’s love of The Fall as his later immersion in disco culture. With the stock price of irony, sarcasm and white-male listmaking at an all-time low, LCD Soundsystem could arguably feel even more inaccessible in 2019 than in the mid-noughts, when the band were, at worst, an easy punchline for those keen to wipe the smug look from the face of the emerging wave of Pitchfork hipsters. Even then, few could resist the bassline on Daft Punk Is Playing At My House, nor the refreshingly diverse group of NYC oddballs they revealed themselves to be, as they ripped through clubs and festivals with the sweat and attitude of a genuine punk rock heritage.
Murphy, a keen student of popular culture and a sensitive soul, would later wisely balance the band’s more acerbic streak with the likes of Someone Great, Home and All My Friends – vulnerable anthems that now dutifully serve as cathartic tearjerkers at millennial weddings. Back on LCD Soundsystem, it feels as if the band are struggling to decide whether to expel or embrace the acidic tendency. Murphy’s awkward clarification that the trendy ghouls he mocks throughout Losing My Edge are “actually really, really nice” is funny and self-aware in a manner that is exquisitely them.
"On LCD Soundsystem, it feels as if the band are struggling to decide whether to expel or embrace [their] acidic tendency"
For all Murphy’s laser-focus disses in the direction of “art-school Brooklynites in little jackets,” LCD Soundsystem finds him mercilessly documenting the underwhelming life he’s about to leave behind. On the underrated and pleasingly lethargic Never As Tired As When I’m Waking Up, he attempts a charmless seduction (“When I was a little boy, I laid down in the grass/ I’m sure you’d feel the same, if I can fuck you here tonight”), whereas the cultural stock take on Movement is far from hopeful. “It seems the punk rock as an experiment, well it pulled up lame,” observes Murphy, a self-appointed “fat guy in a t-shirt doing all the saying”.
These nuggets of self-deprecation are sometimes lost in the live arena, where Movement remains a gnarly, pogo-inducing highlight of the band’s pristine set. Yeah (Crass Mix), a repetitive, escalating jam built around the band half-heartedly intoning the word “yeah” is still a knockout, a timeless classic in the sphere of what we might have once called ‘indie-dance’. It’s pure ecstasy, and revelatory of the amount of energy bubbling throughout a scene that was at least sincere in wanting to see club culture and the ever-present threat of “borrowed nostalgia” in a very different way. Revisiting LCD Soundsystem, you may find yourself glad that Murphy dropped the act. But you’re still reminded that, when administered in the right direction, a little cynicism can go a long way.