Abel Tesfaye's dark, twisted album is at odds with the glossy pop world he's been thrust into
Sound Of Silver
Anyway, in 2007 the idea that you’re somehow breaking boundaries by sticking some bleeps’n’bongos underneath your rock song is laughable. Bloc Party, The Rapture, Klaxons, Panic! At The Disco, Mystery Jets, Hot Chip, Hadouken!, The Futureheads, Calvin Harris, Late Of The Pier, Radiohead, Metronomy, The Twang, CSS… the list of indie bands who’ve mixed the rock with the rhythm in recent times is so wide and varied it makes such a declaration virtually meaningless.
Yet this wasn’t the case at the turn of the century, when a slurry of garage rock bands were so determined to pretend it was still the early ’70s that they all stopped washing and caught STDs. In an age where Jet could wear a ‘Disco Sucks’ badge without getting publicly flogged, James Murphy was pretty close to a musical messiah – a one-man groove machine, helping The Rapture find their funk with his DFA production of ‘Echoes’, providing Trash (and a billion other indie discos the world over) with ‘Losing My Edge’, aka The Anthem That Never Tired, and inspiring new rave to gurn like no-one’s watching.
Yet Murphy’s recorded output has always been a confusing one to digest – random singles, a double-album with a disc of reheated tracks, a conceptual jogging opera recorded for Nike… can’t the man just put 10 songs on a disc and release it every two years like everyone else? It seems he can – which makes this album rather exciting.
By Murphy’s own future-thinking standards, it’s refinement rather than revolution. The backbone to ‘Sound Of Silver’ is, like previous LCD material, indebted to the original disco-punk explosion of the late-’70s, from Eno to ESG, while Murphy’s delivery suggests he still hasn’t discovered the sinus-enhancing benefits of Vick’s VapoRub. He’s also still acting the record shop über-nerd, pick’n’mixing with such fervour that NME could quite easily fill the word-count here by simply listing all the things the album sounds like (‘All My Friends’? That’ll be The Chemical Brothers’ ‘The Golden Path’ played out of time on a toy piano, then. ‘Sound Of Silver’? Gang Of Four skull-whacked on barbiturates, of course. ‘New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’? Otis Redding reborn as a smart-arse NY hipster, what else? Etc etc). But even by his magpie-like standards, Murphy pushes his luck when opener ‘Get Innocuous!’ kicks the record off with a bassline nicked from one of his own records. A kind of muted version of ‘Losing My Edge’, it’s delivered with a knowing wink before flavours are slowly added to the pot – a barefaced pinch from Kraftwerk’s ‘The Robots’ here, some Talking Heads-style chanting there.
It’s this ability to play hop-scotch with genres that keep the surprises coming. The fabulous ‘Someone Great’ (built around part of his Nike track, ‘45:33’) experiments with acid-fried glockenspiel, ‘Watch The Tapes’ erupts into Beach Boys-style amusement-park pop, and we’re pretty damn sure we heard a slap-bass lurking in there somewhere. Meanwhile, album closer ‘New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’ is a firm “fuck you” to those who doubt his songwriting credentials – stripped down piano, Stax horns and an avalanche of guitars that even the Manics might consign to the ‘too bombastic’ bin.
Yet, for all the ideas, this is a record with heart. Be it the sense of mourning that hangs over ‘Someone Great’, or Murphy realising the reality of ambition on ‘All My Friends’ (“You spend the first five years trying to get with the plan and the next five years trying to be with your friends again”), there’s deeper terrain to be explored here than the pseudo-stoopid dude singing ‘North American Scum’ likes to let on.
Never does any of this attention to detail interfere with the record’s main purpose – to make you shake parts of your body you never knew existed. The way Murphy thwacks the cowbell on ‘Time To Get Away’ is no doubt inspired by some avant-jazz art happening from the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, but the point is that it sounds great. This is very much a record designed for the dancefloor, rather than your desktop stereo (especially as most tracks head well beyond the five-minute barrier). But whereas Murphy’s wise enough never to let his showing off spoil the fun, he can’t avoid investing these songs with heart and soul. It’s a human affair. And that’s what’ll keep you hooked long after the beats have worn you out.
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