After developing a strong presence on the New York, Los Angeles and European club circuits through a string of party-ready vinyl singles, dance-rockers LCD Soundsystem have finally released their self-titled, two-CD debut to critical acclaim. (Rolling Stone gave the album four stars.) It's an impressive, genre-spanning album -- and catchy as all hell.
The first disc features all-new tracks from the five-piece -- frontman James Murphy, drummer Pat Mahoney, keyboardist Nancy Whang, bassist Tyler Pope (also of !!!) and multi-instrumentalist Phil Mossman -- while the second traces the 12-inch vinyl releases that made their name, including their hipster-mocking classic "Losing My Edge." Of the new songs, "Disco Infiltrator" jumps with electro-percussion, and the single "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" is a contagious tribute to basement shows, with Murphy letting loose some ooh-ooh-yeahs. On the other end of the spectrum are the dreamy, Beatles-inspired "Never as Tired as When I'm Waking Up," and the majestic album closer, "Great Release."
A presence for a few years now, why did the band take so long to put out the album? Chock it up to Murphy, who, as mastermind of New York's pioneering DFA Records, also happens to be one of the hardest-working men in progressive show business. "It took three weeks to do the record when I finally found the time," Murphy confesses during a sit-down at his Brooklyn apartment. "But I have, like, five jobs."
While LCD Soundsystem is no half-hearted side project, the New Jersey native with the permanent five-o'clock shadow does spend most of his time wrangling the avant-garde (and dance-friendly) artists on his label, such as Black Dice, the Juan MacLean, Pixeltan and -- until they jumped to Universal in 2002 -- the Rapture. (DFA released its second compilation, DFA Compilation #2, in November.) And, as half of one of the city's most influential independent production teams -- with former trip-hop guru and U.N.K.L.E. member, partner Tim Goldsworthy -- Murphy's worked with artists such as N.E.R.D., Le Tigre and, weirdly enough, Britney Spears. All this, while fronting his own band.
Murphy takes his multi-tasking very seriously. "I have my accounting online; I totally watch every penny," he admits, claiming his business head comes straight from his father, an accountant. "There were days when I first moved to New York, when I was eighteen, when I'd come home and report everything I'd spent, like 'Today I bought a muffin.' And as a kid, I built a studio in my bedroom: Every inch of floor and wall was covered, but it was totally organized."
In keeping with his obsessive work ethic, Murphy's conversation is packed with grand judgments: "John Lennon was an idiot!", "Jimi Hendrix was a gigantic barrel of charisma!", "Coldplay -- what the fuck are they doing?" It's a drama that stems from his earlier days as a Tri-state-area punk rocker. "This one band I was in, we would only release 7-inch vinyl," says Murphy, cracking up, "and never on the same label twice. We'd never be photographed, and we'd never use overdubs -- because that was 'false.'"
His hardcore stance began to crumble, however, when in 1999, working as a self-taught engineer after college, he ended up co-producing a project with Goldsworthy. The London trip-hop talent and the American indie-head surprisingly found common ground through bands like Can, the Ramones and the Smiths. "It was like, 'You're chocolate, and I'm peanut butter!'" Murphy says with a laugh. "We'd go out dancing and do ecstasy." The experience drew the former punk deeper into a world he'd always considered taboo: dance music. And when Murphy read Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton's book on disco, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, the pieces started to come together: There was a link between punk and disco cultures. "There were these people who deejayed fourteen hours a day, seven days a week," he explains. "Their whole life was devoted to the people they played for. And that's incredible."
That dance-punk fusion came to define the sound of DFA (Death From Above), which Murphy and Goldsworthy founded later that year, bolstered by a buzzed-about series of free, anything-goes parties at their West Village Plantain Studios. "We played anything -- the Fall, Public Image Ltd., Donna Summer, Kraftwerk, the Clash -- and people would dance. It wasn't cool school," says Murphy. "I love big disco parties, where people actually dance and don't just stare at you while drinking and go home the second the last note's struck." A hybrid genre -- sometimes dubbed disco-punk, sometimes punk-funk or dance rock -- was born.
"On the one hand, yeah, it's 'punk-funk,' or whatever the hell people say," Murphy says, a little exasperated. "I mean, I'm changing the rules. You don't have to be something that fits into some inane micro-category at a record store. That's just another way for a bunch of cool kids to exclude people." This from a man pegged as the scenester's scenester. "Hipsters have always hated me!" Murphy protests. "I'm a failed hipster, a kid from fucking suburban New Jersey, and I'm fine with it. And, anyway, I don't think about all that. What Tim and I pull our hair out about is making music that isn't horrifying, music that we can put on the shelf next to the records we love and not be, like, gouging our eyes out with forks."
Meanwhile, LCD Soundsystem, in the midst of a European tour, have scheduled only two stateside dates in support of their record thus far: on March 17th, at Austin's South by Southwest Music Festival; and on April 2nd, at New York's Bowery Ballroom. "I'm not going to drive around the country in a bus for a year to get people interested in my band," Murphy shrugs. "I did that for years: Motel 6's, people's houses, my own inflatable bed and portable air conditioner. But now, you know, this is a band with five grown adults, and hauling ass would be unbecoming."
In spite of this, more people than ever will now have a chance to get their hands on the album, as the LP is the band's induction into the realm of major labels: Capitol in the U.S., and EMI in Europe. It's also the beginning of a relationship between DFA and EMI, who will distribute DFA's artists abroad and have first look at new talent. This brings Murphy one step closer to realizing his dream of giving a significant underground label the distribution reach and staying power of a major.
"'Cool' for me has never been kids having to buy our record for the equivalent of $20 in a store in Milan because it's an import," he says. "'Cool' is never letting things go out of print. I think that's the most respectable thing you can do. Music should not be temporary. Period."