Get in the Ring

Someone should've kicked dance-punk DJ-producer-bandleader James Murphy's ass by now. No one can.

One part of 45:33—a light, twinkly, melodic interlude of synth plinks and whooshes—found its way onto Sound of Silver (LCD Soundsystem's proper sophomore album, out this week) after Murphy added a plaintive and melancholy vocal. "While I was working on it, I kept singing things on the subway home while I was listening on my iPod to check the mixes," he says. "And it started turning into a song."

That song, "Someone Great," is a clear highlight of Sound of Silver, an album that finds Murphy easing up slightly on his nervous, clenched groove and easing into prettier, more thoughtful territory. Though tracks like "Us vs. Them" build up frantically rhythmic beds, and the single "North American Scum" gleefully and sarcastically lampoons the guilt and confusion of Americans traveling in Europe, songs like "Someone Great" and the similarly gorgeous "All My Friends" show Murphy in a mellower place, developing new ways to let beauty coexist with his beats.

Murphy doesn't see this as a move toward tranquility. "I'm still making songs with the same sets of intents, with some minor adjustments," he says. "I'm not saying that it isn't different; it's just really weird how similar the two records are, in a way. I purposefully tried to make a record that was a companion to the first record."

James Murphy
photo: Jake Walters
James Murphy

But major differences exist. On Sound of Silver, for instance, Murphy is more willing than ever to delve into his love-hate relationship with the city where he's lived since 1989. "New York's the greatest if you get someone to pay the rent," he whoops on "North American Scum." And the downcast, album-closing piano ballad "New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" takes a conflicted view of the city's gentrification: "New York, you're safer, but you're wasting my time/Our records all show you were filthy but fine."

"New York's the place where weird people have some actual power, and that's why I love it," Murphy muses. "You can bitch and piss and moan, but you're never going to hear 'Love it or leave it' here, because being patriotic doesn't mean being retarded. It's just an irrelevance. I love New York. I super love New York. It is expensive, and it is retarded and filled with assholes; I just wouldn't live anywhere else. I don't see the need to make New York seem like it doesn't have things that make me want to shoot myself in the fucking face as a way of explaining that I love it. I don't see the point. I love it. It's my home."

For the rest of the year, though, Murphy won't get to spend much time here. Instead, he'll be touring the world promoting Sound of Silver, threatening to punch unworthy adversaries in the face. He sees a lack of competitiveness in the indie-rock world, and he isn't happy about it. "I feel like all bands could be better if the sense of competition was stronger. Imagine if they saw the Jesus Lizard as many times as I did. What if you were playing with the Jesus Lizard? That band was fucking good live! If you don't like that macho '90s Chicago rock style, fine, but a band like that live, you really had to look in the mirror backstage. You really had to ask yourself if you were willing to go where [penis-waving Lizard frontman] David Yow was willing to go."

But the Jesus Lizard broke up nearly a decade ago; it's safe to say that few of Murphy's tour-circuit peers are old enough to have ever seen the band at their peak. Murphy has been a musician for decades, and he's still just getting used to the idea of his success coming so late. "I should not be in a band," he says. "I should not be on tour. I should be laughable. I'm 37 years old. I'm 220 pounds. I'm a producer. I've got about as much likelihood of being a fucking frontman as Christopher Cross, for fuck's sake. I should have my ass wiped off the stage every night." But that's not happening. And if Murphy's as competitive about Ultimate Fighting as he is about music, maybe the idea of a middle-aged dance-music producer entering the octagon won't be so funny after all.

LCD Soundsystem play Bowery Ballroom March 30–31, sold out as fuck,

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