REVIEW: LCD Soundsystem sparkles during New York’s “Electric Lady Sessions”

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In-studio live albums can be very fickle in terms of quality. They can either be completely useless, like most of the recently introduced Spotify sessions, or fantastic companion pieces to the records themselves, like Radiohead’s “In The Basement” series. LCD Soundsystem is an interesting case when it comes to this type of record.

The group’s main projects are all written and mostly performed by mastermind James Murphy, whose precise vision is perhaps why all four of their albums are so excellent, but when the group plays together there is a different dynamic that sets it apart from the sounds of the records. Each member brings their own tone and style to the performance. Drummer Pat Mahoney, guitarist Al Doyle and the amazing Nancy Whang are among the reasons the band’s concerts are so electric.

The group’s live albums are usually hit or miss, however. “The Long Goodbye” is an emotional, extensive journey through the band’s discography, played to a sold-out Madison Square Garden. 2011’s “London Sessions” on the other hand is a flat, unnecessary and sometimes questionable studio live album.

The recently released “Electric Lady Sessions” falls into the same vein as the latter, but is an improvement. It may sound cliche, but it feels raw. All the instruments sound powerful. The guitar is noisy, packing a punch whenever it lets loose and the synths are versatile, providing spacey chords, erratic noises and crunchy rhythms throughout.

The record contains mostly songs off of 2017’s “American Dream,” and while these songs are fantastic, they are this album’s low points. They definitely benefit from the fuzzier live sound, especially “Emotional Haircut,” but the majority of them don’t really tread much new ground compared to the originals.

However, this record’s versions of “Tonite” and “Oh Baby” both sound excellent. They’re very crisp and have a certain level of oomph that the original album’s versions didn’t quite reach.

Somewhat disappointingly, the record only contains three songs off of the group’s pre-hiatus albums. The version of “You Wanted a Hit” these pre-hiatus sessions produced is outstanding. The spaciness of “American Dream” creeps into this track more so than the other classic songs present. Everything feels more organic. The glittery synths during the intro are smoother, letting the song flow. Once the main section begins, the percussion is tight, the muted guitar is driving, just waiting to explode, and Murphy’s performance is just as sharp as it was in 2010. When everything finally lets loose, the cacophony is so satisfying. The drums are drowned out by the full power of the guitar and the jittery synth. Only Murphy can overpower them, repeating the cutting, “We Won’t Be Your Babies Anymore/ Until You Take Us Home,” rounding out nearly eight minutes of frustration levied towards the music industry that still feels as witty and relevant as it did nine years ago.

The only “Sound of Silver” track present, “Get Innocuous,” also shines. The song benefits from new, sparkly synth accents sprinkled throughout, which are very reminiscent of last year’s “Lake Zurich” from Gorillaz.

“Home” sounds as excellent as ever on this record. It sounds more like a “Sound of Silver” cut rather than the original “This Is Happening” version, thanks to more emphasis on the guitar and the clacking percussion. “Home” leads directly into an energetic cover of Chic’s “I Want Your Love,” featuring Nancy Whang on vocals.

The group bookends the album with two other covers, including a performance of Human League’s “Seconds.” It’s a very faithful cover, but has a little more weight thanks to the group’s tone. The more notable is the album’s closer, a cover of Heaven 17’s “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang.” It once again features Whang on vocals, absolutely belting her lines, accompanied by a scratchy guitar and a simply impeccable bassline, bringing the album to a satisfying conclusion.

While few songs manage to leave a lasting mark, “Electric Lady Sessions” is still a pleasurable listen. Though it mostly falls short when it comes to the group’s post-hiatus material, it succeeds in breathing new life into some of the group’s classics, and, more so than “London Sessions,” feels like a essential listen in LCD Soundsystem’s canon.

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