In seeming defiance of the hype that can so easily crush the potential and ambition dozens of today’s most amped up bands exude, LCD Soundsystem head honcho James Murphy has brazenly absorbed the mounting anticipation for his project’s oncoming album with what appears to be the reassuring calm of a seasoned pro. As expectations built skyward for This Is Happening, it would have been easy to feel let down — no matter how high these nine singular tracks climbed — with Murphy’s third opus, given how much has been piled onto it. What’s striking about what’s been produced is how flippantly Murphy brushes off that tension, crafting an album as spellbinding and addictive as anything he’s released in the past while taking ardent liberties with the approach he uses with his familiar-by-now manic dance-punk hysteria. Even the title itself seems to be shrugging off all of the baggage with the winking nonchalance of a prankster.
Word has it that Murphy will retire the LCD Soundsystem moniker following his latest release, and if that has any ring of truth to it, the man couldn’t have chosen a more apt bookend to this portion of his impressive career. Serving up a comprehensively postmodern survey of pop culture with wit, panache and an enviable dose of hooks, This Is Happening manages to avoid predictability by consistently keeping one step ahead of the listener yet sidestepping clever-clever irony with a genuine warmth that’s naturally layered within the giggling heathen at the heart of the record. Each curve ball that hides around the corner sneaks on as welcoming as a cool breeze on a blazing summer’s day, eliciting as many geeked out thrills as it affords mass critical adoration. What Murphy does best is balance these tendencies so that none of his whim-chasing expulsions ever feel crass or smug, and by finding the spirited inspiration in the nondescript, the self-effacement in our projected criticisms, and the fun in the commonplace, he’s able to keep us entertained in the process.
Skipping from the smart ass demeanor of “You Wanted a Hit” — its snarky, biting “you wanted a hit? / well maybe we don’t do hits” a snickering sucker-punch to the record industry — to the bittersweet, sad-eyed empathy of “All I Want” — a kissing cousin to Sound of Silver‘s Single of the Decade-worthy “All My Friends” — Murphy’s versatility is only out-matched by his ability to tie it all seamlessly into one with such a knowing, strong handed sense of craft. While lesser musicians would crumble underneath the seeming pretense of hitting on so many facets of life in such a stuttering, audacious fashion, the giddiness exhibited on these tracks is as infectious as it is admirably stitched together. In fact, that may be the resounding strength of This Is Happening: by finding a way to be life-affirming while keeping our hips shaking, without casting off life’s woes and joys as either paltry or boring, LCD Soundsystem has succeeded at capturing both our minds and our bodies without sacrificing its head-nodding spirit or its heavy-hearted sense of purpose along the way.
Not only has the band wrapped up the themes of the record with impeachable, spotless playing and production, but the man at the center of it all hasn’t lost his penchant for writing quality tunes either, as nearly anything you blind-spot off This Is Happening will prove. From the tightly-wounded yet spacey high jinks of “Drunk Girls” to the elastic, twinkling “Pow Pow,” each track is crammed with enough melodies to herald James Murphy as one of the top songwriters of his time. Touching on concepts as far-reaching as sacrificial heartache (“I Can Change”) and our hidden feelings on social etiquette (“Dance Yrself Clean”) — with no shortage of hooks, by the way — LCD Soundsystem’s excellent third release bestows us a clutch of repeatable, enduring songs that will be sure to reveal their undertow of depth as we shuffle along to its dance floor-shaking deliruim. That his songs seem sure to unravel themselves even further as among both the best and the most accessible of his time is not only a testament to his abilities as a writer and a musician, but places him on a level few of his contemporaries can lay claim to.
If we’re to place stock in the rumors at hand, and This Is Happening closes out a trilogy of DFA classics for LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy has certainly completed the circle of his tenure as King of the Indie Dance Floor with both style and smarts. The concluding record in this prospective series is not only a clattering triumph, but revels in its billowing expectations and thumbs its nose at them with the same tossed off, hook-laden attitude that informs his most remarkable moments. With their erudite yet casually dominating tertiary outing, LCD Soundsystem take their place on 2010’s shortlist of year-defining albums alongside fellow standouts Beach House and the National with a bow and a smirk. In a year splattered with high profile releases that seem to be nailing their hyped up targets more often than not (rare indeed in our culture of hopped up preemptiveness), it feels like an understatement commending the fact that not only has James Murphy overcome these lofty expectations, but that he’s created an album that may in fact go on to help surmise and define the outset of the decade in popular music as well.