The title of LCD Soundsystem’s new album, Sound of Silver, isn’t just some stab at conjuring a synaesthetic response from those listeners who weren’t born with the rare ability to hear colors. No, James Murphy, the main dude helming this post-dance-pop-electro-rock-funk-punk outfit, actually covered the walls of his recording studio with aluminum foil. So, not only is this disc accurately named, but its top secret vibrations were kept safe from the “thought police” and all alien species during its recording. Now these pre-baked tunes have been removed from the freezer, the foil unwrapped, and the album’s nine tracks reheated for your pleasure.
Sound of Silver is a damn fine album. Let me state that right away. Still, I was hoping for a little bit more. Murphy’s first album, 2005’s LCD Soundsystem blew me away. It took me back, it shook me forward, it tossed almost every style of music I like into a big old salad of sound. And it started off with “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”, the awesomeness of which reverberates to this day. Kicking off a record with a track like that elevates the entire experience to come, sending a tingle rippling throughout the rest of the material. Sound of Silver begins a little more tentatively, though.
“Get Innocuous” doesn’t need to get innocuous; it already is. The song burbles up slowly, the elements gradually coalescing until you suddenly realize you’ve been lulled into the middle of an out-take from Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. Now, hey, if you’re going to borrow from anybody, early Heads is a great source. Perhaps Murphy drinks from that well a little too often on this disc, though. The music for “Us v. Them” is like a sped up “Slippery People”. The song’s mantra “The time has come” is all Murphy, but then his singing slides into another of his main sources of inspiration for the record, Eno-era Bowie. (Unsurprisingly, the third major source is Eno-era Eno.) Still, Murphy makes it all work. The song’s jam is a good one.
LCD Soundsystem sound less like anyone else, and maybe most like themselves, on the album’s lead single, “North American Scum”. Smartly, Murphy brings back out his “Daft Punk” vocal style, a nasally surfer professor tone, clear diction rounded off by stoner drawl. Over a delirious, banging, rave-up chorus, he offers the US its anthem for international relations: “We are North American scum.” (I think he’s most specifically referring to that big, brash country wedged between Canada and Mexico.) That was track three, and the beginning of when the album gets really good (so much for front-loading!). The next cut, “Someone Great”, adds a sweetly compelling vocal track to a gorgeous segment of music lifted from 45:33, the jogging soundtrack (really!) that LCD recorded for Nike (truly!) last year. The title track, too, escapes from getting caught in a web of indebtedness to heroes of a bygone age. They’re in there, no doubt, but the sources are less easily teased out form the hip and head-bopping mixture of rubbery bass, percolating keyboards, multi-layered drum programs, and the talk-sung refrain, “Sound of Silver, talk to me / Makes you want to feel like a teenager / Until you remember the feelings of / A real live emotional teenager / Then you think again”. How true that is. In the fantasy where we go back to high school and play the whole scene much cooler, it’s always with a wiser mind and hormones that have mellowed like a fine wine.
Oh, I almost forgot about still more musical imprints on the underside of Murphy’s skull. “All My Friends” is equal parts New Order (Bernard Sumnery vocals, propulsive drums) and John Cale (prominent, minimalist, driving piano). Maybe all that aluminum foil kept Sounds of Silver from leaking out, but it did nothing to shield lots of great music from coming in. And, really, the debut CD was not immune from these infusions, either. “Tribulations” could’ve been a Fischerspooner track. But maybe I’m getting carried away with this issue. Often enough, the quality of the music and Murphy’s own personality overpower the urge to refer to cuts as “the Talking Heads song”, rather than its proper title.
When not distracted by analyzing this disc, I like it a lot. Not as much as LCD Soundsystem and, actually, not even as much as the mostly instrumental 45:33, which many would likely consider a discographical throwaway (but have they even heard it?!). 2007 seems to be a year in which we critics are acting as watchdogs against the sophomore slump. It’s afflicted a few acts already. [Cough, Bloc Party, ahem, Kaiser Chiefs, cough, ack, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, snort, cough.] Whew, pardon me there! I guess I had something stuck in my throat. With Sounds of Silver, LCD Soundsystem pass inspection, with perhaps just a touch of tarnish on their disco ball, a patina of “great, but what’s next?” ever so slightly dulling their 2005 sparkle. You won’t likely be amazed this time around, but be prepared to be thoroughly satisfied, all the same.