LCD Soundsystem bids farewell with final LP, the hypnotic 'This is Happening'

Many activities are suitable accompaniment for the music of LCD Soundsystem. Driving is not one of them.

We tried. But James Murphy’s dance-punk jams are too mesmerizing for so passive an activity, and the last thing you want is to zone out on the highway while you’re doing 75. Next thing you know, you’re embedded in the back of a truck, and the emergency crews are prying you out of the twisted wreckage while throwing down to “Dance Yrself Clean.”

It’s the first track from “This is Happening” (Virgin/DFA), LCD Soundsystem’s third and, apparently, final record. One of nine tunes, it starts slow, with distant vocals, spare rhythm and a single synthesizer pulse every four beats, new elements weaving in and out before the song erupts into a clattering dance-ready rave-up stacking  layers of burbling, pinging, grunting synths.

The synthesizers are a theme here: Although they’ve always been a big part of LCD’s sound, they are particularly vivid on “This is Happening.” It’s part of why the album has such a hypnotic quality: eight of the nine songs are nearly 6 minutes or longer, which allows plenty of room for the musical elements to unfold, expand and shift as they swirl around over relentless beats.

Various keyboards and sequencers lurch after each other in widening circles on “One Touch,” Murphy almost speaking the lyrics in dispassionate, stentorian tones with shouted backing vocals from Nancy Whang adding emphasis to certain phrases. On “You Wanted a Hit,” he doesn’t pipe up at all until more than 3 minutes into the song, which sounds like a brusque dismissal of requests from various high-profile acts who have asked him, without success, to produce their music.

“Drunk Girls,” the upbeat and punchy single, is more concise at less than 4 minutes. A bassline floats through the song like an excitable bee, weaving around the oft-shouted refrain, and Murphy yelps disjointed and funny stream-of-consciousness observations about the foibles of drunk girls as compared to drunk boys. It’s a masterful mash-up of his talents as an arranger and lyricist, and one of many reminders on the record of why it’s better not to listen to LCD Soundsystem while you’re driving: it’s that much harder to dance.

— Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by Ruvan Wijesooriya

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