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LCD Soundsystem: Who Cares About an Edge, Anyway?

Among all the fervent eulogizing of the late LCD Soundsystem, a backlash has kicked up some funereal dirt. So, where to lay the band to rest -- with the hippest of the hip, or the bright-but-empty space with most of the other Madison Square Garden clientele?

What else to say about the early demise of LCD Soundsystem? The blogosphere already let the digital tears roll with eulogies ranging from the fantastically extensive to the cut-and-dry to, yes, remarks from the naysayers. For those who couldn’t make either the week-long victory lap at Terminal 5 or the final blow out at Madison Square Garden on April 2, setlists and reviews and videos abound. The show at MSG was as explosive and far-reaching as promised, a sea of black and white (and occasional spots of color from those who either didn’t get the memo or were too embarrassed to indulge in some fan-boy dress code respect) and palpable energy, even when James Murphy scrounged deeply into his pockets to pull out b-sides rarely or never heard live ("Freak Out/Starry Eyes", anyone?).

But LCD Soundsystem was always tremendous live, so none of that should be any surprise. What is actually astonishing—not surprising, but really something to stand back and look at without the sense of irony that surrounds so much of our dialogue about indie music—is how this outpouring of love for the band reveals just how much LCD Soundsystem came to mean to so many people over a relatively short amount of time. It’s no real mystery how James Murphy pulled it off: he’s a damn good songwriter and a seemingly tireless workhorse, to boot. Still, how many bands in 2011 could call it quits and hear such an immense gasp of real sadness from every corner of the globe? We’re talking genuine emotion on the Internet, folks—and on a massive scale. Chew on that one for a second.

So, the point being—I’d like to start a (completely amicable) Hatfield-McCoy-inspired feud with PopMatters’s own Jane Jansen Seymour (who, by the way, is a great writer and seems entirely delightful) for blurbing LCD as “Brooklyn’s seminal hipster band”. Yes, James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem practically ooze New York cool, and yes, someone with a PBR avatar live-tweeted the MSG show on your Twitter feed. Also, sure, Murphy disbanded LCD at a perfect balancing point, right when the band had achieved a peak in critical acclaim and in commercial success, without tipping over too far into one side or the other. To quote the man himself: “Yeah, yeah, yeah." All of that’s true. But a band can’t become such a big deal to such a wide variety of people if it’s just another blog-approved zeitgeist buzz act. Through LCD Soundsystem, James Murphy was able to tap into something a lot bigger than that.

Rock music has a history of relentlessly fetishizing the adolescent (e.g., the Strokes played MSG the night before LCD). James Murphy’s not into that. He’s not interested in forever-young escapism or rock-God romanticism. There are moments of fancy in his material—the love song to loving songs that is “Dance Yrself Clean”, “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”—but stack his discography from end to end and you’ll find it increasingly harder to point to the titles that go for the Grand Gesture or the Life Changing Epiphany. Nor, despite what his harshest critics might argue, will you find any pervading cynicism. What does Murphy do, instead? He talks to you like an adult. His best songs, from “Losing My Edge” to “All My Friends” to the final cut on his final album, “Home”, deal with the ambivalence of adulthood, the concrete realization that—hey—concrete realizations get to be a scarce commodity once you’re off campus and doing the 9-to-5. “Sound of Silver” puts it most succinctly: his indelible dance music might make you feel like a teenager again when the volume’s up, but come on—were you really so much better off back then, when literally every single little moment in your life seemed to balance the entire weight of the universe on its puny shoulders?

His critics try to corner Murphy as nothing more than a guy with a good record collection, an expert emulator but not a true talent on his own. In their eyes, he’s out to impress, to smirk while you try to play name-that-influence, but not to write original, emotionally resonant songs. It’s the opposite. Nostalgia, for LCD Soundsystem, is The Great Plague, the force that keeps us from living realistically, from putting our baggage behind us and getting on with the next project. Yeah, Murphy misses his friends and the kind of I-am-invincible cool that you just can’t come by after age 30, but he’s still finishing those songs, still pouring himself into work, and challenging us to do the same. “How much time do you waste every day?” he asks on “Pow Pow”, while dedicating the whole of “Yeah” to complaining about people’s ideas that remain just that—impalpable, unrealized, unfinished. Get on with it, already. That’s the overarching message of his band. And that’s why it makes sense that he dissolved the project to move onto other things.

If the hipster affect (if there really is such a thing, and frankly this writer is unconvinced that the slur is anything but a convenient portable defense for anyone who’s worried about their shoe selection that morning or wonders if, really, they should’ve tried the craft beer tonight) is one of casual apathy, or of a spirit of one-upsmanship that simply pushes the victor further and further into the realm of obscurity—if that’s the hipster affect, then James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem couldn’t be further from it. If some people choose to remember this band as too cool for its own good, so be it. (How cool is it, really, to play Madison Square Garden? Eddie Vedder will be there soon, so you can ask him, if you can make it through the throng of dads.) The fact is, if Murphy wanted to be the hipster idol of his hometown, he wouldn’t have created such intimate, honest, vulnerable music. He could’ve been crowned World’s Best Dance Party Host through virtue of his musical abilities—his production, his melodic ear—alone (please sit down already, Gregg Gillis). He didn’t need to shoot for the heart at the same time. He did, and it seems he made his mark for thousands and thousands of people. That, in the end, is pretty cool.

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