LCD Soundsystem has always been saying goodbye. At this point, pointing out that their first single was the scene-mourning “Losing My Edge” is beyond trite. But you don’t have to stop there. “All of My Friends,” which James Murphy now acknowledges as the masterpiece it is, is about the compromises we make when we grow up and into ourselves. “New York I Love You” is about saying goodbye to the city Murphy knew and loved. Shut Up and Play the Hits, their in-retrospect-hilarious farewell concert film, is a feature-length farewell in the form of both an interview and a show. Now, the band founded on meta-narrative has performed their neatest trick yet: Saying goodbye to goodbye, hopefully forever.
The band has also been there for almost all of my important goodbyes. The day before I left for college, I got so drunk and stoned during their concert at Los Angeles’ Greek Theater that I fell asleep during the Arcade Fire’s subsequent set. When I touched down for my move into New York City, I was listening to Sound of Silver. At their most recent Los Angeles concert, at FYF Fest, I realized I would be saying goodbye to my life as a single person forever. They’ve been the perfect band for all of these moments because each one of their songs seems like it could be their last. Not because they play with such vigor–they do–but because they always seem like they’re ready to toss down their instruments and walk off into the sunset. Each record, then, becomes a miracle. You never get the sense that the band needs this, you just get the sense that they’re choosing to do so in the same way that we as adults choose to kiss our loved ones or make sure that project is completed just-so. They care because they can.
The initial response to LCD Soundsystem returning after a truncated hiatus was ambivalent to say the least. Many fans were outright angry. “I’m Still Waiting to Get Something Great From the LCD Soundsystem Reunion,” Jeremy Gordon wrote in Spin. Though I was higher on their initial singles than most, that seems like a fairly representative opinion. To me, any outrage seemed weird. LCD Soundsystem are one of our few monocultural bands–the only other artists regarded similarly are earth-shakers like Kanye West, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift.
The tradition of a false goodbye is nothing new. Joan Didion was back to New York within 18 months of writing “Goodbye to All That.” Nobody cared (or, indeed, noticed), when JAY-Z started making music again after The Black Album. Shit, Jesus only stayed in his crypt a few days. All of humanity is in a continuous cycle of being back on its bullshit. The only thing is: You have to be good. Although, to be honest, if David Bowie tells you to get the band back together you just shut up and do it.
So it’s maybe their greatest feat yet that American Dream is an instant classic, and hopefully marks their goodbye to goodbyes. The album itself takes its own production as a subject. Album opener “oh baby” could be read as a breakup anthem, or it could be read as James Murphy’s music patiently waiting from him to return from his wine bar and his quixotic dream to tune the New York City subway. (Getting it to stop stranding people between stations would be, frankly, more impressive.) The album’s second track “other people” is explicitly about how Murphy’s push-pull about returning to making music.
Enough about the lyrics. They’re good. You knew they’d be good. The music is what counts. And the music is just as great as its always been. I think in particular of the synth hit at around the three-minute mark of “how do you sleep?” LCD Soundsystem are notable for their obsession with the sound of their musical instruments. That seems like a trite thing to say but part of the way they bring you into their cityscape is that they hit on the exact correct synth sound for that moment. When James Murphy sings about standing on the shore, it sounds like he could be singing from beside Ian Curtis, with the drummer still forgotten on the roof as Martin Hannet drives away with the rest of the band. It’s strange, it’s inhuman, it makes you feel at home and also like you’ve never been further away. That moment, the synth hit after three minutes of wailing, is the most uncomplicated joy I’ve felt all year listening to music.
One of the miraculous things about LCD Soundsystem is that, even though their music is about alienation, fear of failure and other bad feelings, you don’t have to feel bad about loving it. There’s no semiotics class needed to justify loving Kanye even as he complains about bleached assholes, or Taylor Swift as she continually and obviously manipulates her own pop culture narrative. Maybe that’s because they came in as already over-the-hill or maybe it’s because their music is just unimpeachable but they’re a souce of uncomplicated joy.
That’s why I’m so relieved that this album is great. It’s true that there might not be a single in the traditional sense and that they’re not so much innovating as perfecting, but that doesn’t have to matter. The best band in the world is back. I hope they’ve said their goodbye to goodbye.