One of the most critically hyperbolised bands of their generation, New York post-punk and electronic dance ensemble LCD Soundsystem ostensibly broke up in 2011 with an epic show at Madison Square Garden – the self-styled “best funeral ever” as documented with suitable warmth, wit and style in the film Shut Up and Play The Hits. It felt like the perfect ending. A departure almost as beautiful and graceful – if not as tragic – as David Bowie later practically making an art piece of his own death.
Less than four years later, they spoiled it all by coming back. Worse still, LCD Soundsystem singer, songwriter, producer and all-round control-freak fulcrum James Murphy (pictured) claims it was his late friend Bowie’s idea.
Okay, “spoiled it” is putting it harshly. LCD’s new album American Dream, their first since reforming, is one of the best they’ve made – a powerful, emotional, tuneful, often slow-burning and almost excruciatingly self-aware honing of their singular mix of geeky record collection rock and gut-shaking analogue synth infusions. It has a real feeling of unfinished business about it. It had to: as Murphy sagely reasoned in a recent revealing interview: “I knew we were going to have to be significantly better than we ever were, for anyone to say we were even half as good as we used to be.
There’s a purist in me that can’t help but wish LCD Soundsystem had stayed gone. There aren’t enough perfect endings in music any more
Some purists have been decrying LCD’s decision to come back, particularly since Murphy made some ill-considered comments implying that the whole “farewell” aspect of the final show was just a cunning ruse to help them sell tickets.
That hurt for some, because LCD Soundsystem are one of those bands that really matter, and that show meant a great deal to a lot of people. I haven’t caught them live yet since their return. I can’t deny that I’m excited by the thought. But good as American Dream may be, there’s a purist in me that can’t help but wish LCD Soundsystem had stayed gone. There aren’t enough perfect endings in music any more.
Despite being one of the most famously dysfunctional groups in the business – having two sets of brothers among their five members goes some way to explaining that – The National have become one of the great institutions of US indie-rock. Their seventh album Sleep Well Beast may throw some fans a little at first with its dense, clanging guitars and electronic flourishes, but persevere and it reveals some typ-ically gorgeous moments, the Kid A-era Radiohead-flavoured I’ll Still Destroy You and gently rolling piano ballad Carin at the Liquor Store included.
The National seem to be putting down roots that could potentially outlast their life as a band with the various festivals they’ve been establishing. Guitarist Aaron Dessner’s Eaux Claires event in Wisconsin was staged for a third time this summer, while the inaugural Haven event in Copenhagen in August – Aaron Dessner and his twin brother Bryce’s brainchild, a music, food and beer collaboration with a hip Danish craft brewery and a star chef – was by all accounts excellent. There’s rumour of a similar event coming to London next summer too. Amid music’s turbulent make-up and break-up culture, it’s refreshing to find a band giving such constructive thought to their legacy.