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Music's zesty, but he's testy

Pop Music

Irritability seems to help LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy turn out sharp dance tunes.

February 20, 2005|Douglas Wolk | Special to The Times

NEW YORK — James MURPHY is one angry guy, and you'd think he'd be in a better mood these days. The DFA, his record label and production partnership with Tim Goldsworthy, confers instant cachet on any artist it's associated with and recently began a two-year distribution deal with EMI. And LCD Soundsystem -- more or less his solo project in the studio and a full-throttle band on stage -- is about to release one of the most anticipated debut albums of the year, after a string of underground-hit singles.

Even so, irritation is what keeps Murphy moving. He's almost bubbling with contempt for everything and everyone in the music world -- beginning with people who overrate his work.

"I think we're a good band," he admits. "I'm not a particularly charismatic person or a great singer. I don't think anybody's an astonishing player, with the exception of Tyler [Pope], the bass player. But because most bands [are so bad] live, people walk up to us after shows, saying, 'That's unbelievable, that totally blew my mind.' And I say, 'You've never seen a band, have you?' "

Murphy, 34, spent the '90s playing in small-time indie-rock groups in New York, but he hated the scene: "I thought there was a lot of the high-school-style in-club/out-club nonsense that I always loathed. As much as I love some of the music, things started to go really wrong. My band would play, and the other band would be a bunch of jocks. And I'd think: 'You were calling me "fag" and throwing beer cans at me in the parking lot when I was growing up; what are you doing here? Get out of my house!' "

By the end of the decade, he'd started to focus on dance music, and formed the DFA team with Goldsworthy. "The thing I liked about getting into dance music was it was already ruined. In 1999, dance music was faceless and mediocre: The sounds were dull, DJs were really unadventurous. Tim and I were so angry and so charged up -- it was just the best time."

They made a splash with their first single, the Rapture's guitar-driven groove "House of Jealous Lovers." Since then, DFA Records has released just a dozen or so singles and a few albums, but it's given the sound of dance music a hard kick.

The first LCD Soundsystem single, "Losing My Edge," was a hilariously furious eight-minute attack on precisely the same music geeks who fell in love with it, with music that morphed from whomping techno to walloping rock and back again. It also gave Murphy another opportunity to get under the skin of his audience.

"I wanted people to be simultaneously excited, horrified and embarrassed for the band," he says. "LCD went to England to play our first shows, and people literally expected me to show up with the CD and have a haircut and do something ironic over it. And we showed up with a punk rock band, and everybody was dumbfounded."

"LCD Soundsystem," the album, was recorded mostly by Murphy on his own. It's very much the work of a music fanatic -- the allusions run from its opening stomp "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" to the uncanny pastiche of early-'70s Brian Eno that ends the album, "The Great Release."

But it's also the work of somebody who understands both the rock aesthetic and the dance aesthetic deeply and has figured out how to bring them together.

Naturally, Murphy is angry about being at the forefront of that particular movement too: "I didn't spend four weeks on 'House of Jealous Lovers,' pounding my head against the wall to make something that was genuinely a rock song and genuinely a dance-floor song, just so any band can hire any hack DJ to make a 12-inch, and now you're part of the 'rock/dance crossover.' What have we done? I feel like [Alfred] Nobel, you know -- we made dynamite so that we could excavate and people blew each other up with it, and now I wanna kill myself."

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