Saturday, May 19, 2007

worth spending money on, volume one (and introduction)

worth spending money on is a new series on mr. mammoth. in it, i try to pick out recent (from last week to last year) releases that have taken more than pitchfork's nudging for me to like them. these albums are, in fact, so good, that the artist deserves more than just my dollar when i go see them live, they've earned it for their studio work. which is another way of saying, of course, that merely downloading this album is not enough - you should really buy it.

so, the first album of this series is sound of silver by lcd soundsystem.

i didn't like lcd's first album...i got as far as "daft punk is playing at my house" (the first song) before deciding i didn't like it. but james murphy's new album, sound of silver, is captivating in a way his first disc wasn't. it's not just the allure of "new york i love you but you're bringing me down," the album's closing track, which ignores all dfa mandate against guitars; it's not the snotty "north american scum," which actually sounds like murphy recorded it with a cold; and it's not the hyponotic "all my friends" that draws you in with a solo piano and layers sounds upon sounds. sound of silver is orchestrated as a balance, making hips shake with the ever-present bass, but soothing the mind as well...i keep rereading that sentence, and it sounds so ridiculous, but it's true. the melodies are quirky and calm, the lyrics melancholy and regretful. james murphy has positioned these three elements, the physical (the dance factor), the mental (the soothing factor), and the emotional (the sad factor), in a unique arrangement that privileges none, but values all. sound of silver feels alive at a every track, the three themes reimagined and rebalanced continually. sound of silver maintains its vibrancy by shifting the emphasis between the three, resulting in a textured album that is refreshing and rare.

the first track i heard from sound of silver was "new york i love you but you're bringing me down," and i loved it. where had these guitars come from? the real drums, the rawness in murphy's voice, the guitar SOLO? it was shocking, nearly. murphy's flexibility (about dance music) kinda ends with that track, as all eight others are electronic, but "new york" adds to murphy's mystique and is an enigmatic way to ends the album. the album stars with "get innocuous!,"a red-hot jolt of dance power. instead of evolving intensely, expectedly, or emphatically, "get innocuous!" finds a simple melody, before murphy buries it under thick bass sounds. but we never lose track of that simplicity, anchoring the song, as it does, without being overwhelmed by the physical. murphy's vocals in this song are melodramatic, echoed to the point of sounding like a choir in a tunnel, but are almost nonexistent, entering for only a minute in the middle of the song. "time to get away" continues in the dancy vein, almost lulling the listener into believing this will just be more of the same from lcd. but murphy shifts it up with "north american scum," an anthem where lyrics take the fore. "scum" is as danceable as "innocuous!" and "get away," propelled by a repeated bass line, and could be on it's way to being a dance song, before murphy sings "oh i don't know, i don't know, oh, where to begin/we are north americans. and for those of you who still think we're from england/we're not, no," establishing a lyrical theme and encouraging the listener to think as well as dance. and dance you will, because "scum" has one of murphy's best choruses yet.

so far, on my fifth listen today, the standout track on silver is "someone great," as it has been for the past several days (though not as many listens per day). the opening of the song is gloomy, like having to play inside on a saturday when you're eight. but then the double melody breaks the song open, a xylophone and electronicy beeps competing for attention, lifting the song from sadness. but murphy's lyrics, recited in singsong, spell out a story of loneliness that counters the perkiness of the melody. in this song, the best in an album of standout tracks, lcd soundsystem delivers the goods.

the second half of sound of silver is just as good as the first, bridging the gap with "all my friends," which features the most precise drum sounds since "new york i love you." "friends" actually has the most organic sounds of any song besides "new york," adding to its allure (along with the pelvis-shaking beat). "us v them" is a no wave homage song, reinforced by the omnipresent bass, resplendent with cowbell and backing vocals. i like "watch the tapes," a short (by lcd standards) song that sounds overwhelmingly happy, that opens like punk before bringing in the electronic beats. "watch the tapes" is uptempo, and murphy adds to the positive feeling with all-out singing and "woo-hoo"s for effect. "sound of silver," the title track, is the second to last track, but is, in many ways, the thematic end to the album. like all the previous songs, it's a slow build that integrates both the adding and subtracting of sounds. "sound of silver" is less focused as well, a departure from the strict progressiveness of his other tracks, though just as orchestrated and deliberate. murphy brings in some new sounds, like a marimba, and the beat, though present, is never strong enough alone to make someone dance. it's a relaxing yet enticing end before the straight up rock of "new york i love you," a thematic end to an album that defined its sound, but wasn't limited by it. james murphy's versatility is integral to lcd soundsystem's future, especially after sound of silver. i am very impressed by this album, and am happy to say:

it's worth spending money on.

lcd soundsystem - "someone great"

support independent labels by shopping direct. buy sound of silver here.

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