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Time to Get Away: The End of LCD Soundsystem

written by: on March 7, 2011

So, this is happening. LCD Soundsystem is breaking up. With Murphy’s announcement fans across the world proclaimed “James Murphy, I love you, but you’re bringing me down.” It’s true, this is upsetting, but Murphy did, after all, tell fans it was coming.

Although it is a sad occasion that one of today’s best bands is stepping down, it could not have been more appropriate or well timed.

When Murphy released “Losing My Edge” in 2002, he was calling out hipsters all over. Though he wrote it from the perspective of being a DJ, the sentiment is valid for listeners as well. Complaining that other people are discovering your favorite “underground” music is dumb. It’s not your music. You don’t have the right to get angry that other people have it too. Murphy makes a point that these people are “actually really nice.” Plain and simple, Murphy was saying let’s all stop pointing the finger at each other and just start making music we like.

With 2004’s “Yeah” Murphy pointed out that “everybody keeps on talking about it, nobody’s getting it done.” Well, he took his own advice and for the rest of the decade he produced great music. His work helped to forever integrate dance music into the indie scene. And though Murphy has always focused on replicating the sounds of his favorite artists, he’s always been himself. He wears his influences on his sleeve, but he wears his heart on the other. He puts tons of genuine soul and inspiration into his work, that his work transcends the influences.

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By the time the LCD full-length came in 2005, Murphy wasn’t worried about losing his edge anymore. He was just making tunes, and the tunes were great. “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House” is a super fun song describing what would be the coolest part ever,  “Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up” draws from the most delicious of Beatles and Pink Floyd tones and mixes it with sentiments we can all agree with and “Movement” is a swift blast of awesome – the fastest and heaviest tune the band would ever record.

Murphy’s lyrics were simple, at times sarcastic, at times sincere, but always on point.  They were deliberately ambiguous so that they had the potential to mean anything and everything to anybody and everybody. He may not have been the most original, but he certainly was among the most inimitable.

LCD Soundsystem was never supposed to be a long-term project, but it was bigger than him.

So, with an established sound, all Murphy had to do was perfect it. And he did that quite quickly. I remember getting my copy of Sound of Silver in the mail on my way out and putting it on in the car. I was having a fun solo dance party. Then “All My Friends” came on. It hit me so hard I forgot what I was doing and drove around aimlessly. With its awkward piano loop and slowly building train of sound driving Murphy’s most poignant lyrics and most moving performance, “All My Friends” is for everyone. It hits home in more than one way. Whether you experience exactly the same problems as Murphy, you experience the same feelings. And ultimately, that’s what counts. In today’s fast-paced, overworked society, we all need to remember what matters most: the people that are closest to you.

Of course, that isn’t to say that the tracks leading up to it aren’t fantastic. The propulsive “Get Innocuous!” opens the album with a supremely muscular beat and catchy hooks galore. Chanting “You can normalize/Don’t it make you feel alive?” Is both funny and meaningful, but really, at this point, normalizing is becoming an LCD Soundsystem fan because this stuff is irresistible. The vibrancy and personality of this song are unparalleled.

Murphy’s social commentary continues into “North American Scum.” Diatribes never sounded so fun! But then Murphy takes a turn inward for “Someone Great.” Recycling material from the 45:33 project, the piece tackles the issue of loss and as usual can be interpreted in multiple ways. A previous love? A death of a loved one? A death of a therapist? Perhaps one, perhaps all, perhaps neither. But the ambiguity is part of the brilliance. It allows all to connect, while still being obviously personal. Murphy describes the scenario with a distant tone so flawlessly real, noting the world around him is unaffected by his personal loss (“The worst is all the lovely weather/Surprised it’s not raining”). Few songs are so incisive.

It’s no wonder Sound of Silver was almost unanimously ranked among the top 20 albums of the 2000s.

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Having explicitly expressed plans to end LCD and get back to producing and living a regular life again, This Is Happening was released in 2010. This victory lap ties up loose ends and brings closure to the entity that is LCD Soundsystem. Plus, it’s arguably as good as Sound of Silver. “Dance Yrself Clean” had the fattest riff of 2010 and was Murphy’s falsetto was never better. He tried more acrobatic and straining things with his voice, probably because he didn’t plan on performing them longer than a year. Still, on record and on stage he sounds fantastic. But surely you already know all about this.

The album is peppered with indications of the end. We hear Murphy struggling with becoming middle-aged and finding his place on “Someone’s Calling Me.” He frequently references “home” and even closes with a song called “Home.” It’s somewhat of a modern-day response to Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.” Murphy discusses love and life one last time in his perfectly uncertain way.

Reviewing the lyrics, it seems like Murphy is giving fans one final thought before calling it quits.

Tying in themes from previous songs and coming full circle with the “aahs” from “Dance Yrself Clean” Murphy concludes with “Look around you, you’re surrounded/It won’t get any better/Until the night.” Truly, it won’t get any better. How could it? Along with other lines like “everything was never the deal,” Murphy could also be addressing fans about how he needs to get on with his life. As the song comes to a conclusion, it deconstructs a little at a time. Instruments leave one by one until one last beat on the drum is struck and there is no more.

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I had the pleasure of seeing LCD this past year with a group of friends at the Treasure Island Music Festival in San Francisco. Murphy, adorned in an all-white suite and his band played an amazing set, leading us through the best tunes on This Is Happening and some old favorites. True to the song’s title, everyone danced themselves clean throughout the whole show. I launched myself off my girlfriend’s shoulders for the explosion in “Movement,” and I worked myself into a frenzy during “Tribulations.”

You could only imagine my excitement when the much-anticipated key loop of “All My Friends” started. When Murphy sang the lines “To tell the truth, this could be the last time/So here we go like a sail’s force into the night,” it didn’t dawn on me that this would be exactly the case for me and my precious LCD. Surrounded by my friends and a mass of other people singing along with the San Francisco cityscape off in the distance was a moment I will hold onto for the rest of my life.

Then, as promised, LCD announced their break up. One final show: Madison Square Garden. Three hours of LCD with choir, strings and more. The ultimate going away party. But then as we all know the scalpers came around as they do and ruined thousands of fans’ days. Murphy is the everyman of the music scene, though, so after some good old angry tweeting and some deliberating (along with some great coffee of course) , Murphy stuck it to the scalpers and booked four shows at Terminal 5 in Brooklyn leading up to the grand finale. Murphy’s stream-of-consciousness post on LCD’s website gave us another interesting view into his mind and all that was going on. It just continued to show that Murphy is a man of the people. He just makes music he loves and he’s glad to have shared it with his fans.

The fact is, the music of LCD Soundsystem has inextricably become part of many lives, including mine. Murphy has always come off as a regular guy and as a result his humor and his sentiments are easy to connect to. It’s like he is all of our friend.

As Stephen Colbert was quick to point out, you don’t just get out of the rock ‘n’ roll game whenever you want. That’s not how it works. But that’s exactly what Murphy is doing. He’s not dying early, he’s not burning out, and he’s not making a questionable artistic leap. He’s on top and that’s where he’ll stay. A perfect career, a perfect ending.

I won’t be able to make the last show, but to those who will be there: Please, do as he asks and wear black and white. Dance like there’s no tomorrow and sing along. Because you are a lucky bunch. Murphy’s work has clearly had a similar affect on you as it has for me and you should cherish it.

And with all that said, there’s only one question left to ask: Where are your friends tonight?