I’m wary about endorsing this guy when Holy Ghost!’s less important 2011 album exists, but he’s part of the canon.
1. This is Happening (2010)
Making his reputation on garrulous stem-winding forcebeat, Murphy trimmed the lengths on his third album, resulting in his most realized creation. For those like me getting bored by the Chatty Cathy, This is Happening constricted his penchant for the excess his fans relish. “Dance Yrself Clean” is a helluva title for what artists from the Isley Brothers and Donna Summer and Shannon to Rihanna long realized. But the heart of this album — one of the more realized middle-aged records — beats in two songs: “I Can Change,” where Murphy, like New Order’s Bernard Sumner, exploits his vocal weaknesses to coax out a plaintive timbre; and “Home,” a sequel to “All My Friends,” limning with exacting care what a warm bed and soft pillow mean to a man over forty.
2. Sound of Silver (2007)
I could’ve included 45:33, at the time his most sustained instrumental, from which Murphy extracted and shaped “Someone Great,” one of the first indications that introspection and beats fascinated Murphy as much as it did very white boys Neil Tennant and Bernard Sumner. Often the introspection fascinated him more than beats, too close to comfort for me. “All My Friends,” though.
3. American Dream (2017)
The musical diary of a bright fellow who snorts too much coke, stays out too late, and whose solid collection of 12″ singles doesn’t give him the same frisson. I understand his attraction to an aging subculture that rarely stays out late, avoids coke, and embraces those Factory 12″ as fervently as they do their children. A dork whose mission is to refract his influences just enough so he can dance to them as awkwardly as any white man, Murphy quit recording his own music cold turkey before releasing American Dream. At the time its stubbornness irritated me — it’s not 1997, no one needs convincing that New Order were the greatest of white rock disco acts. Plus, geez, no one over thirty thinks writing in lowercase is anything but an affectation. Revisiting the album last week, I enjoyed the throb, distorted guitar, and cowbell on “other voices,” which I attributed to valued collaborator Nancy Whang, but not the use of the word “ablutions,” which I blamed on Murphy. The cavernous dance skronk of “how do you sleep,” a valentine to bad fun friends and their drugs, should’ve soundtracked Paris: 05:59: Theo & Hugo. Whether I’ll return to American Dream another year depends on my own umbilical connections to my records.
4. LCD Soundsystem (2005)
Few parties thrown or attended by undergrads and grads in 2005 failed to play “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and “Tribulations,” the punk dance numbers for which I’ll remember James Murphy. They sport solid riffs and exclamatory vocals that are as fun to imitate (and parody) as Fred Schneider’s. The rest of LCD’s debut flirts with genres like most debuts: Pink Floyd here (“Never as Tired as When I’m Waking Up,” leaden Moby-going-hardcore there (“Movement,” ill-named). “On Repeat” continues in the vein of “Losing My Edge”: calling attention to what one is doing hoping that listeners will accept it as a well-wrought post-modern joke. The second disc contains the 2002-2003 singles with which Murphy conquered Greenpoint and Bushwick, and they’ve worn as well as baggy jeans.