Review: LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

Within the world of electronic music one of the most difficult challenges is to carve out an entirely unique place for yourself. A sound that would instantly define you as ‘apart’ from the rest of the community. James Murphy has succeeded at this more than almost anyone purporting to make music with synthesizers.

At the same time he has imparted a sense of fun to his music. It’s when one hears a cheeky track like “Pow Pow” or “Drunk Girls” that one realizes how unusual it is to hear an electronic song with that much of a sense of genuine fun. By its nature most electronic music is crazy-self serious. We take ourselves very very Seriously and what we make/listen to is very very Important and we’re not inclined to associate so much of music of our genre with a smile (maybe an intense grimace while dancing, or a knowing nod when we catch a snatch of lyric that goes to the heart of What We’re All About Underneath It All). Murphy and Co are all about taking the piss and enjoying the ride. And more often than not it goes beyond refreshing into the realm of “downright blast”. This is Happening doesn’t hold a candle to the peerless Sound of Silver (an album Softsynth considers among the best of the last decade), but that’s an awfully high water mark to aspire to. Taken on its own, it does justice to the ever-growing legacy Murphy has built.

Known for making electronic music that is almost entirely performed instead of programmed, this album fits exactly into Murphy’s wheelhouse. It sounds great but it also sounds oddly organic for a synth-driven album. Songs like the terrific “All I Want” build on a slow-build simple 4/4 beat that grows and grows with new bleeps and blurps layered on top (as LCD Soundsystem do so often) until it becomes a full-blown cacophenous noise experiment.

There are truly standout songs here like the synth-poppy “I Can Change” and the awesome slow-build (yet again) “Dance Yrself Clean” which starts off as one of the typical minimalist cleverisms the band are known for but then positively explodes with a synth burst of bass and sequences and culminates with Murphy’s best from-the-gut emotive screams. It’s among the band’s best-ever.

Speaking of Murphy’s screams, he’s in fine voice throughout This is Happening. Known more for his speak-sing style and often-off-key warblings he’s very much in tune and brings amazing depth with him to the vocal table on song after song. He’s become a powerful instrument in and of himself (never more so than on the aforementioned “I Can Change” where his voice dips and soars with more range than we even knew he was capable of).

Full of party anthems, LCD Soundsystem have become a go-to band for songs that are equally thought-provoking and fun. It’s a place on the music scene occupied by Murphy and friends, and they alone (okay, maybe “Drunk Girls” fits exclusively into the latter category, but that’s a bubbly exception). It’s a solid album, with some real hints of greatness. There has been some talk that this could be the last LCD Soundsystem album, and that would be a real shame as they occupy unique space on our terrain. As it stands they’ve become the kind of band where every new release is a veritable event, and This is Happening is no exception.

Watch: Drunk Girls

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