The iJamming! Weekly Download: Sounds Like Silver by LCD Soundsystem Remixed
The highly-anticipated, long-awaited and widely-advanced new LCD Soundsystem album, Sound Of Silver, was released this month. Already, a remix album, Sounds Like Silver, is up on the web. This is surprising: the remix album is usually used as a compilation “filler” between projects, or to extend an originating album’s shelf-life. Who in their right minds would deflect attention from their new studio album by releasing a free download remix version the very same week?
Not LCD Soundsystem themselves. Check the small print at the LCDRemixed.com web site and you’ll see that “lcd soundsystem remixed is not affiliated with or endorsed by lcd Soundsystem.” In other words, it’s an album of bootleg mixes. A tribute album. Or, if you prefer, an alternate version.
This is all very 21st Century, and it’s something you hope that LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy will appreciate. For those who still need the introduction, Murphy came to attention at the start of the 2000s, with Brit expat Tim Goldsworthy, as DFA, a production duo that helped bring a dormant New York City scene back to life with hit punk-funk mixes for The Rapture (‘House Of Jealous Lovers’), Radio 4 (‘Dance To The Underground’) and, soon enough, Murphy’s own commentary on the very scene he’d helped instigate (LCD Soundsystem’s ‘Losing My Edge’). Murphy is also a DJ who favors a drunken mash-up style, and the DFA web site hosts downloadable dance mixes that have helped render the mix CD almost irrelevant. Murphy is not adverse to sucking corporate dick (witness the Nike+ mix ‘45:33’), but he’s mostly a mischievous renaissance man, and Sound Of Silver is a killer album, a solid mix of retro-electro, indie beats and attention-grabbing lyrics, exactly what the international dance music scene needs right now to keep moving.
And Sounds Like Silver, the imitator, is exactly what it says it is. Its unofficial status means that the producers won’t have had access to the isolated “parts” (vocals, bass lines etc., all provided on separate files for de- and re-construction), and so several of the remixes are merely the original LCD Soundsystem versions expanded with extra dance beats.
But that’s not to criticize: Atom’s Exit Stage Left mix of ‘Time To Get Away’ turns the album’s weakest track into a welcome dancefloor heaver. The Go Home Productions mix of ‘Us Vs. Them’ has more beef and bite than the original, a definite dancefloor preference. And the first single and prime talking point, ‘North American Scum,’ is put through the heavy tech-house filters for Dunproofin’s Not From England Either mix, leaving the words very much centre stage. Murphy’s lyrics are often referred to as wry/droll/sarcastic/ironic, but picture an electro Mark E. Smith, and you’ll realize how much of it is in the delivery. ‘North American Scum’ is not an exercise in sarcastic self-loathing, but an honest examination of the conflict felt by American bands whom, on touring the world as cultural heroes, find they’re simultaneously meant to apologize for their nationality. Murphy throws the vitriol back at the audience – “I hate the feeling when you look at me that way, ‘cos we’re North American,” – but being smart, he then throws props to the British, the Spanish and the Germans, ensuring it’s ultimately just one big international love-fest. (The reference to North America in the title may also be a subtle reminder that LCD Soundsystem is arguably the first American act since the birth of the rave scene to challenge Chemical Brothers, Orbital, Daft Punk et al in the “real band” stakes.)
Other remixes are more ambitious. Team9’s Excursion on the Version of ‘Watch The Tapes’ completely reinvents the original album’s most indie-rocking shout-out as a downtempo soundscape. The McSleazy remix of title track ‘Sound Of Silver’ avoids the endless vocal repetition of the original (which I find tiresome) and builds up a new twisting electro-pop track in its place (which I appreciate).
A couple are less successful. The Shokking Shokkaboy remix of ‘Someone Great’ leaves out the gorgeous ballad’s vocal and replaces the synth line with its own keyboard replica. (Fair game: ‘Someone Great’ had its origins as an instrumental on the Nike mix.) And the Amigaman Remix of ‘All My Friends’ shortens the length, hides the words, and masks the magical piano line of the album’s best complete song under an overly overt beat.
Which brings us to Sound Of Silver’s other main lyrical talking point. Rather than remix ‘New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,’ the Musicremixed team have re-recorded it and renamed it as ‘London I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.’ This is an audacious move. Murphy’s lyrics are specific to the Gotham that he helped revive musically, but which he sees himself as nonetheless sinking under a sea of sanitization. The line that most resonates with me from Murphy’s version – “New York you’re safer and you’re wasting my time, our records all show you were filthy but fine” – doesn’t make sense when switched to London…
…Unless you’re a Londoner and you think that it does, in which case it’s your prerogative. To their credit, the wittily named Hearing Double & JCB Soundsystem subtly rewrite the middle verse of LCD’s original (substituting “newt-loving Mayor” for “billionaire Mayor” and specifically citing “Islington bars” over “neighborhood bars”), and then deliver a coda from a number of different voices: Belfast, Hamburg, Boston all get the “I love you but you’re bringing me down” treatment, emphasizing the universality of a love-hate relationship with your roots. It’s really quite sweet and if I was Murphy, I’d feel honored as f**k.
Sound Of Silver is one of this year’s best albums to date, and by being so faithful to the source material, Sounds Like Silver stands equally confidently on its own two feet. The fact that it’s available entirely for free suggests that it’s also been an immense labor of love. However, the team behind LCDRemixed, who previously reworked The Prodigy catalogue and the last Chemical Brothers album Push The Button, know perfectly well that they can’t charge for these bootleg mixes, so they instead request listeners contribute to charities of their choice. “If each person who downloaded the previous remix albums had donated the price of a CD,” they note, “over £500,000 would have been raised for the nominated charities.”
I’ve always maintained that people download music for the same reason that dogs lick their testicles: because they can. If everyone had to pay for these unofficial remix albums up front, they wouldn’t necessarily download them. But Sounds Like Silver is an exceptionally strong alternate version. Far be it from me to suggest that you can own something that sounds very much like Sound Of Silver, benefit a charity, avoid the waste of packaging, and avoid giving your money to the big corporation that is EMI, but that’s the world (wide web) we now live in. There’s much to love about all of this – and nothing to bring us down.