In May of 2010, electronic dance-punk group LCD Soundsystem released their third studio album, “This is Happening,” to the masses. What followed was a meteoric rise to stardom for a band that has been on the cutting edge of innovation and experimentation since its inception back in 2002.
The album offers a glimpse into the life of frontman James Murphy, and ergo the lives of the group’s other members, as the band navigates the hectic lifestyle that comes with being on the cusp of a mainstream breakthrough. Murphy explores themes of hedonism, personal growth and relationship struggles with a unique style that is both witty and introspective.
“This is Happening” opens with the slow-building anthem “Dance Yrself Clean,” an oddly peppy track about a strained relationship set amongst scenes of revelry. It’s an odd juxtaposition, but one that works to great effect. Though its lyrics are dramatic and angsty, Murphy’s vocals seem held back, denying the listener the full power of the song’s emotional undertone. This in turn allows the synth and drums to take over and imbue the song with the electronic backbone that makes it hard not to bop to.
The album’s next track, “Drunk Girls,” is a song that should certainly be played more at parties and get-togethers. Whether the song is a critique, celebration or simply a snarky observation of drinking culture is difficult to discern. Regardless, it has decent vocals, pretty straightforward guitar, drum work and some comical writing. Murphy’s clever one-liners are scattered throughout the playful track and never cease to elicit a smirk. It’s a tad repetitive, but it’s all in good fun.
“One Touch” is next and like its predecessors, powerful synths and drums build into a mesmerizing groove. Murphy co-wrote the track with keyboardist Nancy Whang and lead-synth/DJ Gavin Russom, which makes sense as it relies heavily on their respective instruments.
Tracks four and five, “All I Want” and “I Can Change,” delve deep into Murphy’s relationship issues and desire for resolution. “All I Want” sonically resembles a Joy Division song with its muffled, monotonous vocals and droning guitar. Interestingly enough, the song was intended as a tribute to David Bowie’s 1977 hit “Heroes.” Murphy would later go on to collaborate with Bowie, playing the drums on the Starman’s final album “Blackstar,” released in 2016.
Next up on the tracklist is the more traditional indie rock track “You Wanted a Hit,” which malignes the music industry, and the spirited “Pow Pow.” The latter is an infectious electro-house beat wherein Murphy rambles on about his contemporaries and his own position within the music community.
The album rounds out with “Somebody’s Calling Me,” a song that includes the head scratching synth-vocal pairing, and the much more palatable “Home.” Soft and bouncy, with lyrics that air on the side of melancholy, the final track is a fitting conclusion for the album.
With many acts in the indie scene incorporating more electronic style music and focusing heavily on production, it’s easy to see LCD Soundsystem’s body of work reflected in the likes of recent releases by The Strokes and Tame Impala, among others. Rock and electronic music can be a tasteful pairing, but it can also feel dated rather quickly due to its technologically limiting nature. Every year new hardware and software pushes the limit of what’s sonically possible. In this genre, experimentation is needed to stay ahead of the curve, and that’s exactly what LCD Soundsystem have managed to do with “This is Happening” and their prior releases.
Murphy himself has stated the group has drawn a lot of inspiration from boundary pushing acts like The Talking Heads and David Bowie, and while this album is definitively unique, it doesn’t feel as bold as 2007’s “Sound of Silver.” Murphy and the band have tightened up their musical style and particularly their production on this piece, which is ultimately the winner here. It’s adventurous without risking too much, and the band is completely dialed in, which gives the whole album a well-polished feel. It’s absolutely worth the hour and five minutes runtime.