What is "disco-punk," exactly? Exhibit A whenever the term comes up is LCD Soundsystem, New York producer (and co-founder of label DFA Records) James Murphy's pet project. His first disc, 2005's LCD Soundsystem, married dance rhythms to a punk perspective, anchored by Murphy's jaded, deadpan yelp. A wry, seen-it-all snarkiness pervaded his early efforts like "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House" or "Losing My Edge" (a song where a man's worst nightmare is that his record collection isn't cool enough). It all added up to superbly catchy postmodern dance-rock that never sacrificed intelligence for the beat. But could Murphy follow up his initial hit, and wouldn't his ironically cool pose get old after a while?
Indeed, with Sound Of Silver LCD Soundsystem has grown up a little bit – but still can make you dance as hard as ever. The new album is leavened with a dose of weary maturity, the sound to accompany a hip young club hopper looking in the mirror to realize there's gray hair and wrinkles sprouting. What do you do when you've outgrown the scene? When does so-called "real life" begin?
The emotional heart of Sound of Silver comes in the one-two introspective punch of "Someone Great" and "All My Friends," a seamless reverie and elegy that ripples into a beautiful bliss. "Someone Great" is a New Order-esque ode to someone gone – dead, perhaps, or merely out of the picture, filled with telling little details ("I miss the way we used to argue / locked in the basement"), while "All My Friends" is a bleary-eyed last call to missed chances and old hangouts ("You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan / and the next five years trying to get with your friends again"). Murphy is crafting a soundtrack for aging hipsters and discovering irony isn't enough to carry you into your 40s. Even if you've never been to a club in your life, you'll find an emotional resonance here.
That's not to say Sound of Silver is one big maudlin confessional. The jumpy first single, "North American Scum," is a sing-along satire of the post-9/11 zeitgeist filled with punchy one-liners. Opening track "Get Innocuous!" is a slow-burning drift that feels like a lost Bowie/Eno collaboration from Low. "Us V Them" is a stomping club anthem that says rhythm can eradicate any problem. And the winking hi-hats, claps and bleeps of "Sound of Silver" power the album's manifesto – the same goofily true lyric chanted over and over again like a mantra: "Sound of silver talk to me / makes you want to feel like a teenager / until you remember the feelings of a real-life emotional teenager / then you think again." The mellow "New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" wraps up the disc with a wistful Sinatra by way of Pet Shop Boys crooner.
Sound Of Silver is overall more focused than its predecessor, which had a grab-bag sampler feel as Murphy skittered amongst his influences. Here, Brian Eno serves as a spiritual godfather, as all the songs build and bloom into a cohesive message. There's more of a distinct voice to this album, and despite the heavy electronica, it's got an organic, human feel.
A central foundation of dance music is repetition, and the grooves and beats Murphy picks trot along in songs that frequently break the five-minute mark. That repetition is the element that may turn away some listeners – but it sets a tone, a trance-like kind of space that is invigorating.
Maybe that's what "disco-punk" is – the wild and the mild, the thrash and the drive, crashing and banging together. It's a nice tag, but really, Murphy is setting off on his own path with LCD Soundsystem. It's music that glitters of the future but remembers the past, and with Sound Of Silver, Murphy's crafted a gem sure to turn up on many a year-end favorites list – including my own.