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LCD Soundsystem “This Is Happening” Review

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In 2007 James Murphy followed up his widely praised 2005 debut and the 2006 maxi-track 45:33 with Sound of Silver. Utterly demolishing expectation—which isn’t to say that anticipation for the record hadn’t gathered considerable momentum—the album was immediately met with a glowing response; many eventually acknowledging it as being one of the best of the decade. So how does Murphy follow up his distinguished series of LCD Soundsystem releases? By introducing a new album with a single that wades in tight crunch-funk verses about drunk girls (and boys) before making the personal plea “Just ’cause I’m shallow doesn’t mean that I’m heartless/Just ’cause I’m heartless doesn’t mean that I’m mean.” But even though “Drunk Girls” is not the most obvious attempt at picking up where Silver left off, the single alludes to the general direction that This Is Happening takes: One that’s strikingly familiar despite still reflecting a sense of immediacy. It’s like 2007 all over again.

“Dance Yrself Clean” opens the record with a mellow, thuddish synth that teeters between a basic key line and Murphy’s creamy vocals before exploding into a boisterous electronic break. Murphy later jumps in with his familiar howl that blares intermittently until the nine minute track fades into the record’s aforementioned teaser, “Drunk Girls.” “One Touch” follows with a series of erratic industrial squeals which twist into a spiraling electronic bubble before developing a fluttering loop that looms below Murphy’s weighty vocals.

The first significant shift in the record comes with “All I Want.” The near-seven minute song finds its stride early on with Murphy quietly crooning over a bass, guitar, and drums. Keys are eventually added to the mix, but the collection of sounds becomes a mounting force which overpowers Murphy’s vocals. This wouldn’t seem like such an issue had Sound of Silver not been so lyrically focused, but with the exception of “Drunk Girls” the album has relied greatly on its musical merit to this point.

But just as the ear begins to blend each unique component into one churning sound, “I Can Change” chimes in and once again illuminates with Murphy’s voice, something that translates as oddly refreshing given the development of the record. Or maybe that’s the point: To bashfully reduce the attention which might have been given to his lyrics. As if that were the case, Murphy pokes fun at himself in the song, “Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry, and this is coming from me.” After being so focused on creating a musically intense album, “I Can Change” is a charming reminder of Murphy’s genuine approach at driving focus to the strongest aspect of each individual song: In this case his lyrics fit the bill, in others they don’t.

This Is Happening continues with the unapologetic track “You Wanted A Hit.” At over nine minutes the song is clearly far from radio-friendly in its delivery, but Murphy repeatedly confirms the concept throughout, “You wanted a hit, but we don’t do hits.” It’s an interesting statement when considering that even the most commercial LCD Soundsystem tracks haven’t followed the traditional method to reach commercial success—whether it be sound, style, or simply length. In that sense it wouldn’t really be a surprise if a song like “You Wanted A Hit” became a hit—ironic, sure, but not unimaginable.

The bongo-fied “Pow Pow” follows, tailed by the oddity “Somebody’s Calling Me” which blares uncomfortably harsh synth along with Murphy’s soft vocals and an unusually basic piano line. While the somber lament of “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down” closed out 2007′s offering, “Home” does the same for This Is Happening. “Forget the past, this is your last chance now,” chimes Murphy as the song progresses through its eight minutes. “You’re afraid of what you need/Look around you, you’re surrounded/It won’t get any better” he concludes before a gradually distorted instrumental fades the song out.

If This Is Happening does end up being the final LCD Soundsystem release, Murphy certainly picked the right way to end it. “Home” hints at lyrical retrospection while adopting a musical collage that sums up the album, if not LCD’s three full-length releases, fittingly. As the record weaves its way in and out of each track it encompasses a wide selection of musical directions that glance back at the past while maintaining a direct footprint in the present day. The same could be said about Sound of Silver when it was released though, and if that release stood as the last LCD Soundsystem album it could have been approached in much the same way. If 2010 is the time to put a cap on this chapter of Murphy’s career however, so be it: The man did well. But if it’s not, This Is Happening will likely be approached as the perfect set-up to his impending Soundsystem swan song.