3 Album Reviews: Suburban Basements (Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem)

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Arcade Fire – The Suburbs (2010) – B+

I used to love this record, and when I first discovered Arcade Fire, I played each of their first three albums – the only ones anyone’ll ever need – to bits and pieces of digital files could be so rendered. I still love Funeral and Neon Bible; I merely like this one now.

As opposed to those two records, this one burns out faster because they mostly abandon Funeral’s climaxes and switch-ups and Neon Bible’s textures and darkness for something much more streamlined. Which is to say, this album winning a Grammy was only a surprise because it was stacked up against Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and Eminem’s “comeback”. Anyway. The tunes are memorable, yes, but they’re usually set to basic chord progressions and the percussion never nudges anything in any particular direction, and thus, the tunes just clomp towards the end of the song and the next one begins. Add to this that this is the first time that they oversold their talents, putting out a 16-track hour-long album when keeping it a concise 45 minutes would have been fine (“Month of May” would be the first to go, a decent punk rock track that should’ve been kept to a brisk 2 minute defibrillator), releasing the other stuff as b-side goodies to its singles. Anyone who knows me knows that indie rock that documented (or railed against) suburban malaise is one of my favorite forms of music (because I identify), and that’s no less true here: I stay because of the sentiment. I stay because he states things so plainly: “So can you understand / Why I want a daughter while I’m still young? / I want to hold her hand / And show her some beauty before this damage is done”; “We’re still kids in buses, longing to be free”;  “They keep erasing all the streets we grew up in”; “If I could have it back / All the time that we wasted / I’d only waste it again.” It’s not good poetry – Win Butler’s a shitty poet because he thinks lyrics in songs need to rhyme – it’s just earnest, and that’s to say nothing of his response to the cops on the night-time bike-ride of “Sprawl I”; it’s a conversation that likely never happened but one that was very real in Win Butler’s mind, if that was a real memory, ya dig? You probably already know what the good songs are and don’t need anyone to highlight them for you, so I’ll just say that I really like the anthemic choruses of “Empty Room” and the Yo La Tengo-ish backing vocals of “Wasted Hours” (that come up at the 1:45 mark) that the song should’ve used more of, and the climaxes of the few songs that offer them (“Suburban War” and “We Used to Wait”). Great cover.

LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (2010) – A-

Just as danceable as any other LCD Soundsystem album, but slightly more sentimental, and Murphy moves his voice around a lot more, injecting little nuggets of tune and what results is something sweeter. To give an example, “Home” isn’t anything we haven’t heard from them before, but it’s just so endearing to hear lines like “So we can shut the door / Oh, shut the door on terrible times” and “As night has such a local ring / And love and rock are fickle things” over an instrumental that would’ve been fine on Remain in Light. Another example, on the same song, the cynical “Love and rock are fickle things” is preceded by the lovely “As night has such a local ring!” Overall, This Is Happening remains their second-best, and I feel like saying that’s pretty obvious, so here’s a modifier: almost as good as Sound of Silver. The naysayers have a hard-on for “Drunk Girls,” which takes the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat” and turns it into a dance song (but keeping the structure and rhyme scheme intact). Yeah, “Drunk boys keep in pace with the pedophiles” and “Drunk girls wait an hour to pee” are goofy, but “Drunk girls know that love is an astronaut / It comes back but it’s never the same” certainly isn’t, to say nothing of the catchy choruses. I also notice the people who hate this song don’t have an issue with the mediocre “‘Heroes'”-rip of “All I Want” (there was more to Bowie’s song than just the guitar tone) or The Idiot-homage “Somebody’s Calling Me”, both of which are significantly worse, to say nothing of how they rip Grauzone’s “Eisbaer” for “You Wanted a Hit.” But I guess that’s always been their M.O.; even “Dance Yrself Clean”‘s intro recalls “Atrocity Exhibition” through its drums (most exciting explosive opener since Animal Collective’s “In the Flower?”), and Murphy’s delivery of “Pow Pow” like a calmer Mark E. Smith. So many quotables throughout, but especially in those two songs: “This basement has a cold glow / Though it’s better than a bunch of others”; “From this position / I can say ‘serious’ or ‘cop-out’ or ‘hard to define’; the lines about the neighborhood and kissing under a bridge. He claims he’s a bad poet (the self-deprecating “Love is an open book to a verse of your bad poetry / And this is coming from me” on “I Can Change”), but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a phrase as unique and meaningful as “Dance Yrself Clean.”

LCD Soundsystem – London Sessions (2010) – B

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I own this somewhere, because back when it was released I was a huge LCD Soundsystem fan but couldn’t find it anywhere online; my then-coworker bought Cosmogramma when we went to the HMV in the PATH^ together. Looking back, I bought a decent session album that ain’t exactly revelatory and he bought the best album of 2010. Decent: I would’ve preferred a different set-list that included “Losing My Edge” if James Murphy added in the details that he did for The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem Live at Madison Square Gardenand any of the better songs from This Is Happening than “All I Want.” And the version of “I Can Change” sucks; slowing it down so it approaches the ballad that the lyrics suggested would’ve been fine if they committed, but it just feels like a laconic, energy-less take of the original. Plus all the fucking echo! Cheesy. But you do get a version of “All My Friends” that replaces the melodic guitar line in the back-half with vocals, which is fun, and they try to bolster “Get Innocuous!” with synthetic orchestra touches, but you can’t improve on perfection. Elsewhere, “Pow Pow” is worth hearing at least once for the lyric change (“3! Uhhhhhh, well, three doesn’t make sense anymore…”), and that’s all to say nothing of this version of “Drunk Girls”, bringing in some of “All I Want”‘s guitar and putting more emphasis on Pat Mahoney’s forearms during the choruses.

^I think it’s one of the coolest details of Toronto’s infrastructure that the downtown hospitals are all linked by underground paths for emergency transport from one to another. And yet, that still doesn’t hold a candle to the fact that we have the largest underground complex in the world.

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