Music

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.

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

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In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

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Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

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8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

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