Thursday, 19 June 2008

Ducks In A Barrel/Dance Moves For The Simpsons Generation

LCD Soundsystem -- 'Big Ideas'

It's always tempting to review LCD Soundsystem records through references to other pop songs. This is partly James Murphy's fault, if anyone really needs to be blamed -- after all, the music he makes is full of overt nods to and riffs on the music he loves, and his breakthrough single 'Losing My Edge' was a self-damning catalog of cool music references.

The problem is that this can foreground the method at the expense of the results. Listing ingredients is nothing on eating a good meal, and it's easy to overlook this fact when you're comparing a new Grant Morrison Superman comic to its sixties counterparts, or tracing the various elements of house and disco music that make up a typical Hercules and Love Affair track.

'Big Ideas' could certainly be described in such terms: you could probably compare the big blasts of Eno-esque sound that break up the track to the more mellow drone of Murphy's previous Eno-riff 'Great Release' if you wanted to. Seriously, though, to do that seems kinda perverse in a way, because like most LCD Soundsystem songs 'Big Ideas' is so ridiculously about right here and right now. It's about that chugging bass-line, those perfect drums fills, and hook after glorious hook hammered to perfection by Murphy's yelped vocals and tinny guitar lines. It is totally physical, just like a good LCD Soundsystem live show, where new songs can become fan favourites before they're even over (no joke, I saw this happen before Sound of Silver was released).

Don't get me wrong, I've been a total reference-damaged geek for most of my life. Before I'd even heard of Cape Fear, I'd seen the Simpsons parody of it; when I finally saw Manhattan for the first time, all I could could think of was the opening to season two of Spaced. As such, it's no surprise that people like me should enjoy music that courts our trivia-heavy mindset, which is why I'd argue that Murphy shouldn't be blamed for the focus on other music that pervades the discourse around his records.

No one should ignore context or history, of course, not even when dealing with ephemeral pop music. It can be fun way to approach art as part of a tangled web of action and reaction, particularly in our current information-heavy environment. The only problem comes when this becomes the dominant way in which an artists work is considered, particularly when that artist has a personal aesthetic as strong as that of James Murphy, or Grant Morrison, or JH Williams or Jonathan Lethem.

(Missing from this argument: a discussion of the difference between using your sources and merely imitating them, record-collector rock vs music that plays with its sources, etc.)

Pop culture riffs and references are a useful tool in the creation and evaluation of art, and I think most people know that. As such, this post isn't a shot at any particular critics, but rather a response to the general feeling I get from reading positive and negative reviews of works that are overt in their debts to their sources. It's also a very lengthy note to self:

Don't let the subtext obliterate the text, don't let the recipe overpower the meal, don't ignore a groove this good in favour of dwelling on the other great grooves it builds on.

After all, writing reviews and essays is useful and fun, but sometimes you've just gotta dance!

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