Jun 30, 2016
Sound Of Silver Talk To Me: Growing Older With LCD Soundsystem
The following is an excerpt from a brand new 33 1/3 release devoted to LCD Soundsystem’s Sound Of Silver, written by Ryan Leas, a contributing editor at Stereogum and freelancer at many other places. The book was surprise-released as it out now via Bloombury. You should probably buy it.
The tension between looking back at your youth and the recognition of aging that pervades Sound Of Silver is all right there in the opener. The album starts of two minds. “Get Innocuous!” is a song that can sound like the beginning of things, the moment of ignition, at the same time as it is an unraveling. The song captures the young and reckless abandonment side of decadence, and it also captures the bleary-eyed, weathered point of not knowing when to move on–whether that’s regarding one long night, or whether that’s regarding adulthood, period. Structurally, it’s a callback to the off-kilter pulsations of “Losing My Edge.”
This time, when Murphy starts singing, he’s actually singing. It isn’t the sing-speak detachment or drolly conflicted manifesto of “Losing My Edge.” Now, it’s a smeared, chantlike melody with its own brand of distance–his voice is made half-human, half-robotic, murmuring snapshots where before he scrambled through references as fast as possible. It’s the sound of gradually losing your identity–the thing you’re viciously trying to protect and figure out at a younger age–to the culture and surroundings around you. “When once you had believed it / Now you see it’s sucking you in / To string you along with the pretense / And pave the way for the coming release,” Murphy sings. It’s the sound of buying in.
In service of, what, exactly? There are blurred references to the late night, the half light, the real life, the half life, collectively forming a hypothetical narrative of life flickering in and out of focus as the days start to fall into rote patterns. At the end, Murphy cedes center-stage to Nancy Whang, whose own chant revolves around the act of normalizing. Then she sneaks in the single reference to the song’s title, the would-be dancefloor cry of inspiration. The command to “Get innocuous!” is, as far as dance songs go, a wry and skewed version of the typical “lose yourself,” sometimes-celebratory ethos. Get harmless. Get useless. Get normal. Get boring.
You can hear it as Murphy offering a critical takedown on things once more–sneering at the boring normal people pursuing normal lives in a city that, too, has lost its edge. Or you can hear it as another way in which the song is at war with itself. Later on Sound Of Silver, Murphy sings from a place more comfortable with compromise, of parsing the realities of getting older. Taken in the context of the album, “Get Innocuous!” plays like an extended intro that sonically ties up the internal struggle that’ll later unfold. Maybe there’s release as the song rides out, or maybe it represents the rising tide. The moment of yielding to the banal, to real life. There are not many lyrics in the song, but it’s a track where meaning is rooted in the notes and movement as much as in the lyrics, and in the way the two play off one another. “Get Innocuous!” works as a preface to an album with multiple references to aging, and aging in the city, and wondering what the hell it is you’re doing with yourself. Don’t it make you feel alive?
As the conflicted yet spaced-out introduction to Sound Of Silver, “Get Innocuous!” sets the stage for the various directions of the following eight songs–the more wiry, aloof tracks vs. the moodier and/or more meditative ones, or the moments where the polarities start to coalesce. If you look at “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” as the stylistic outlier comedown at the end of an album of several longform, build-and-release workouts, then “Get Innocuous!” forms a bracket with “Sound Of Silver,” the record’s penultimate track. “Sound of Silver” is an even loopier descent than the album’s opener, an aural representation of diving into the currents of hazy, just-vanishing childhood memory.
The name Sound Of Silver came from a few sources. As the album’s origin story goes, Murphy actually covered the walls of the studio with aluminum foil, evidence of a pretty unique level of commitment when it comes to establishing a specific mood for a creative space. As Murphy once explained to _FACT_ , there was a logic behind it. To him, the phrase held a few different meanings. In that interview, he admits that the first album was a little “beige,” considering it music where he took less chances than he had on the singles that preceded it. This was the purpose behind coating the walls in foil, to remind himself of “shiny music”—glam rock and Human League and Chrome, who he called “the ultimate silver band.”
A slightly less important meaning, in his mind, was a reference to something that his father once told him: the idea that once you had a child, that was always first place, and the best you could do for the rest of your life was a silver medal. That was a bit of a commentary on the idea that, even though he felt that Sound Of Silver was a better and more enduring record than LCD Soundsystem, and even though he wasn’t wrong, you are always going to have to contend with that first time someone encountered LCD Soundsystem, that first time they heard “Losing My Edge” and had no frame of reference around who was making this music. When it first floored them. (In light of the fact that he’s now embarking on LCD round 2, I wonder how much the silver medal concept is weighing on Murphy’s mind currently.)
When the phrase “Sound of Silver” actually appears in the track, it could say all those things, and a few more. The name itself is an inherently empty vessel. Murphy has his own meanings for it, but it’s the sort of title that you can fill up with your own. Like “Get Innocuous!,” there are very few lyrics in the song, just a stanza that gets repeated, then disappears, then reappears:
Sound of Silver talk to me
Makes you want to feel like a teenager
Until you remember the feelings of
A real life emotional teenager
Then you think again
I choose to hear it in another way–there’s something in the term “Sound Of Silver” that evokes the past, whether it be an actual sound from pop’s history, or whether it be a reference back to that first time you heard a particular band, that first time you heard a piece of music and were just old enough to hear it on your own terms and realize that it was reshaping some portion of your worldview. It’s a vague, poetic term that evokes that intangible way in which music acts on you as a young person, when you have less perceptual framework and can feel it on a purer, wordless level. In that regard, the song is one of the nostalgic pillars on an album that’s continuously looking back to give a shot at figuring out or grounding the present moment Murphy and/or whatever narrator is singing from. “Sound Of Silver talk to me / Makes you want to feel like a teenager” is one of the most pivotal lines on Sound Of Silver, and not just because it has the album’s name in it. It’s a yearning line, symbolizing that drive to get back to being able to feel something overwhelming for the first time. That desire to return to that place.
The track isn’t all nostalgia, though. The stanza abruptly shifts tone, moving from two lines prizing that lost experience of youth and discovery, to some straight talk. Murphy follows one dose of wide-eyed melancholy with “Until you remember the feelings of / A real life emotional teenager / then you think again.” Sure, there’s the easy almost-joke of those lines. The “oh, right, yeah” acknowledgment that well, being a teenager and being in high school are mostly not experiences any of us would want to revisit, even as much as you can reminisce about growing up and all your friends and the first time your favorite band or album came along and rewired your brain. Being young and listless and confused is when life feels, potentially, limitless. But it also kinda sucks.
Given the album this song serves as a title track for, it also feels like there’s something a little more significant going on there. “Sound Of Silver” references that feeling of wanting to get something back from earlier in your life, but immediately counters it with a commitment to the present. It’s a sardonic line, but it sums up much of the album’s emotional resonance. It’s a line from a place of recognizing where you are in life and all that led to it, accepting all that, and learning how to move forward with the baggage that entails. The stanza becomes a litany that floats in and out of the song at will, eventually totally giving way to its instrumental journey.
It’s the most abstract track on Sound Of Silver, and perhaps the most abstract track that made it onto any of LCD’s three albums so far. There isn’t the same runaway build as the album’s other long tracks, there isn’t the same unstoppable forward momentum promising some break in the tension. Instead, the shape of “Sound Of Silver” is more of an obscure wandering, synths and beats working in mutated ellipses and ellipticals as if forming pathways inward, through those layers of childhood and teenage memory and occasionally bringing those watercolor remnants to some clearer adulthood foreground.
There’s a core binary in “Sound Of Silver,” the conflict between feeling youth slip away vs. feeling like a more complete person in this moment and making peace with who you have become and what else you still want to achieve. Murphy gets at that in one semi-jocular stanza in one song that’s hard to pin down. Divining its direction is about as effective as wrapping your arms around an indecisive wind.
Hooked? Read another chapter via Stereogum. And then go buy the book here.
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