New Music-LCD Soundsystem and Sleigh Bells

I’m not exactly dying for new music.  There’s plenty of old music to go around.  I try to keep up to date on what bands are cool, but they usually end up being sucky and boring.  Vampire Weekend and their cronies have been invading our websites and rock fests for the past few years, and before they popped up, it was all of that faux-folk bullshit.  But I think we’ve almost reached the tipping point.  Dear god, I hope we’re reaching a tipping point.  This musical pussifying has about run its course.  It was cool when Modest Mouse was doing it, because they knew how to rock.  It didn’t even matter for a while, because people still seemed concerned with making good music, and not just writing lyrics that made teenage girls swoon.  Arcade Fire?  TV on the Radio?  They knew what was up.  Band of Horses?  Not so much.  The indie rock landscape’s gotten so damn clean recently, it’s a little disgusting.  I understand that phases like this are necessary for music to grow, but I think it’s time to call it quits on that shit guys.  We’ve let the Colin Meloys and the Ben Gibbards of the world have their turn, it’s time to change the guard.  They’ve been in charge for so long, their whining’s ringing a little hollow.  Now don’t get me wrong, I fuckin love me some angst, but there’s more than one variety.  It’s time to get evil again.

One guy who’s gotten away with not being evil is James Murphy.  James Murphy a.k.a. LCD Soundsystem has been floating around the musical landscape for the better part of the decade, seemingly impervious to whatever everyone else is up to.  Because the music is made in a weird little bubble universe, I’ll allow him to do whatever.  The music feels a little more timeless because of it.  The new record, This is Happening, doesn’t get very evil, but it does get plenty snide.  It also gets sad and angsty a few times.  That usually seems to work when you don’t make every song a breakup song.  There’s misery but there’s also swagger.

One thing first, I’m not sure how much of a band they exist as in real life.  I’ll be seeing them in a few days, so I’ll report back on what they’re like live.  I think Murphy does the Trent Reznor thing, where he just makes the album alone and then recruits a band for performances.  There’s definitely loneliness in a lot of LCD’s music, but I dig it because Murphy’s got a great “fuck you” attitude.  “Dance-punk” is the genre listed on Wikipedia.  I don’t buy that title because that genre sounds stupid and vague.  I refuse to believe that LCD Soundsystem, Death From Above and Mindless Self Indulgence all play the same type of music.  In LCD’s case though, I can kind of see where the label comes from.  The music itself isn’t that punk.  The attitude though, very punk.  This is the music of a guy who sneers a lot.  They’re two dominant themes to the songs, either “You think you’re so cool, but you’re not as cool as me” or “I’m sorry.  I fucked up.  Please forgive me.”  Murphy’s vocals are also delivered with punk-like effort.  He’s got a very limited voice, but I like it when he manages to get something done with it.

I liked the new album, but a disc of (nearly) nothing but songs over seven minutes can take a toll on you.  At least half the time, I just wanted James Murphy to get to the fucking point, and I started building up expectations for where the song was going, but then he’d just keep zigging when he should’ve been zagging.  The second half of the album tends to get obnoxious because the songs just get so damn repetitive.  If that was the process he had to go through to make “All I Want” then I guess it was worth it.  “All I Want” is going to be this album’s “All My Friends” aka the song that makes all the critics get hyperbolic.  It’s like the Brian Eno song that never happened.  The guitar tones are ripped straight out of “Here Come the Warm Jets.”  However, unlike Here Come the Warm Jets, we can understand what the words are about, and this is where that hyperbole will really start pouring in.  Murphy makes it a song of forgiveness, constantly returning to the line “all I want is your pity.”  He succeeds with the message.  I don’t feel sorry for him, but I also don’t want to scoff at him.  That’s an accomplishment.  That’s a damn good song.  I’m gonna go out on a limb here and declare it to be better than “All My Friends,” his previous “masterwork.”  I just wish the rest of the album could measure up to it.

In the end, This is Happening isn’t as good as Sound of Silver, but it was still pretty good.  I’m not a person who absolutely adores LCD, I’m the guy who finds half the songs really, really good and the other half kind of boring.  This album might’ve had some higher highs-Drunk Girls, Dance Yrself Clean, One Touch, the previously mentioned All I Want, but it also had some pretty abysmal lows.  What the fuck was the point of “You Wanted a Hit” being nine minutes long?  That song goes nowhere.  You better not be fucking with us James, I get the feeling that you’re fucking with us.  Which gets me to this other song, “Infinity Guitars.”  “Infinity Guitars” feels like it might be one of those songs that take for fucking ever.  Sooner than I expected though, they cut loose with the most blown out guitars and drums possible.  Good thing, because the song’s only two and half minutes long.  Coming back to it, it’s the perfect song of anticipation.  The build-up isn’t gratingly long, and the release actually feels worth the wait.  It’s like a damn wave of noise washing over you.  Oh, “Infinity Guitars” isn’t an LCD song either.  It’s from Sleigh Bells debut album, Treats. I was just looking for a nice segue to the next topic.

Treats is the album I’ve been waiting for.  All year long, I was waiting for somebody to come out and kick my ass and make ME get hyperbolic.  Earlier here, I was talking about my desire for a changing of the guard, how we need something really new and nasty to kickstart the next loud music movement.  Sleigh Bells can be that band.  Their level of loud is up there with the best.  Holy shit, this band is loud.  I was so happy to see a “best new music” review on Pitchfork that didn’t revolve around what a well-educated, well coifed pussy the singer was.

The guitar is distorted beyond all recognition.  The synths are equally brutal.  The drums hit like a baseball bat to the skull.  This music is fucking grimy.  It’s also pretty damn poppy.  Is that a bad thing?  Nah, when you’re at this level of noise, you can get away with whatever you want.  The shit’s so hard, it even comes as a relief when they do slow down for a track here and there.

Sleigh Bells could certainly be bogged down in the murk with other acts who get by emulating other bands, but they do it so much better than the rest of them, and they do it with a completely opposite style.  Where everyone else is finding new ways of being melodic and catchy, Sleigh Bells already have that part down and are finding new ways of being loud and abrasive.  Neon Indian this aint.  Part of their trick is combining a bunch of shitty sounds until they get a good one.  For example, “Run the Heart” takes dubstep* bass, really shitty hip hop synths (think T.I.), and Cranberries vocals, combines the three for a genuinely good song, then throws in some nu-metal guitar just for the hell of it.  And it works.  Just to prove they’re not limited to one trick, they threw in “Rill Rill” a few songs later.  Easily the most pleasant thing on the record, it does a better job emulating 60’s pop than just about everybody this side of Grizzly Bear.  Shit man, give em an album or two, and they’ll probably have those guys beat too.  They’re on point even when they’re not!  Songs aren’t wasted on showcasing anybody’s crate digging skills.  Sleigh Bells hit hard and they hit fast.  They’re an electronic pop band that approaches their songs via stoner metal and dubstep (or drum ‘n’ bass.  Whichever’s faster.  Electronic genres are stupid and confusing and there’s too many of them.)  While everyone else is getting back into 80’s synths and basic hip hop beats, Sleigh Bells are taking it one step further.  They’re like a musical rescue mission.  They give new life to all kinds of shitty sounds, and not just the usual stuff.  I’m talkin shit that hasn’t been heard since the glory Days of Linkin Park.  The only thing more impressive than their sources of theft is how easily they make it their own.  They fucking rock, and that’s not something I can say about a lot of new bands, let alone electronic duos.

*At least that’s what I think you’d call it.

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