'Electric Lady Sessions' is intelligent, refreshing live album
At the time of the Electric Lady Studios’ founding, it was the only artist-owned studio in existence, built by and for the one and only Jimi Hendrix. He only got to use the space for a few weeks before his untimely death. Decades later, the studio has seen some of music’s biggest names pass through, becoming a sight of legend and of great music: Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga and David Bowie, to name a few.
After teasing new material recorded in the fabled studio, dance-punk act LCD Soundsystem has added their name to the legendary studio’s list of inhabitants.
On Feb. 8 of this year, Electric Lady Sessions was released. A concise and groovy collection of their own hits and three covers, LCD Soundsystem’s latest release is a rewarding live album.
LCD Soundsystem is no stranger to grandeur statements like recording in one of the most famous studios in the world. They broke up in spectacular fashion, hyped it up for years afterward then got back together to tour the world. They’ve been teasing material from their time in Hendrix’s studio since September of last year.
The group, led by frontman James Murphy, is a master of borrowing intelligently from the past to create a distinct brand of music that is irresistibly danceable but distinctly alternative. Take “home” as an example: a funk-driven sixteenth-note hi-hat, Latin auxiliary percussion, Murphy’s indie rock lead vocals with somber distorted harmonies.
While other crossover-wannabes may juggle between sounds, LCD Soundsystem is so ingrained in both genres that their longer and complex instrumentals are experiences rather than songs. This is especially true in Electric Lady Sessions, where the shortest song is still over four and a half minutes. In ELS’ raw, untamed live sound setting, the grooviness is turned up even more, and it works really well, creating a show that is one DJ away from a dance party.
The setlist has material from most of their career, covering all of their albums save for their self-titled 2004 debut. A couple of slower songs stand out for their slow down in between dance tracks, “oh baby” and “american dream.” All twelve all blend together cohesively, particularly a three-song stretch in the middle.
“tonite” comes from their most recent effort, American Dream, but that song’s maximalist ending abruptly cuts into bells and sustained guitar feedback to shoot viewers into “home.” Then, “home” strips down to its hi-hat and synth notes, adding in rhythmic guitar to introduce “I Want Your Love,” one of three covers on the live album.
The covers are natural fits for LCD Soundsystem’s vibe, as the original songs are the sorts of persistent grooves that the band constantly draws inspiration from; all three from the years 1979-1981 or as our parents and grandparents know it: disco’s heyday.
Two covers are bookends of Electric Lady Sessions, but are both sharp political statements as well. “Seconds” laments over the assassination of John F. Kennedy and “(We Don’t Need This) Fascist Groove Thang” by Heaven 17 calls out then-leaders Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. The bolder lyrical territory is a welcome expansion to LCD Soundsystem’s palette and despite the songs’ age, they are still very relevant in today’s world.
Also welcome is the vocal spotlight given to member Nancy Whang. She had contributed as a writer and background vocalist in past projects, but Electric Lady Sessions, she takes on the lead vocals for all three covers and does a good job. Murphy’s cathartic voice is as emotional as ever, but Whang’s contributions exemplify Electric Lady Session’s larger picture.
LCD Soundsystem previously released their farewell concert as a live album, The Long Goodbye: LCD Soundsystem Live at Madison Square Garden. Fun covers, Whang’s vocals and a couple of moodier and slower songs make for a refreshing listening experience. This time around, instead of just a pure live extraction, Electric Lady Sessions pushes the band in a couple of new directions, and the end result is a job well done.
Final Grade: A-
Carl "CJ" Zabat is a music columnist for the Daily Cardinal. To read more of his work, click here.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter