Ryan Leas, where have you been all my life?
OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration of how much I enjoyed his surprise 33-1/3 release, LCD Soundsystem’s Sound of Silver, but not by much. This is yet another example of what I want from my 33-1/3 books. And it was enhanced by the fact that Bloomsbury held off on announcing this release until it was available (they typically announce them as much as two years in advance). The surprise book coincided with LCD’s surprise reunion, 5 years after their very public “retirement” which included a momentous goodbye show at Madison Square Garden (covered by Leas) as well as a movie, photo book and vinyl release all based around that show.
In describing what I love about this book, I’ll begin with a criticism that I read in one review: “I love this record … but the author speaks to a VERY specific audience of people who were in high school when the album came out (like him).” I don’t disagree that Leas writes from that specific perspective and that he assumes (wrongly) that the audience for the book – and for the record as a whole – is comprised solely of people his age. However, as a reader/listener who is not in that demographic (I’m in my 30’s) I didn’t find that this failing detracted in any way from my appreciation of the book. Leas probably doesn’t realize it, but just like the universality of Sound of Silver extends beyond the 18-25 set, so do the messages and interpretations that Leas offers. If anything, James Murphy (late 30’s when Sound of Silver was released) is probably more relatable to me than to Leas. Fortunately, Leas’ focus is sufficiently on Murphy, the record and his/its place in the post-2000 media culture that the fact that he “speaks” to a specific generation isn’t problematic at all. At least not to this reader.
A similar criticism one could have, though that reviewer didn’t, is that the book is written from the perspective of it being a New York City album and what that means. In this case, it is a little harder for me to discern whether a person who has zero interest in or reference to NYC would be turned off since I am a lifelong New Yorker. That said, I think it’s fair to say that there was a style of music that became popular post-2001 (let’s broadly call it “indie”) that in many ways could be traced back to NYC (not exclusively, but to a fairly high degree) and that evolved over the 15 years since in precisely the way demonstrated by Leas/Sound of Silver. Leas points out that certain NYC indie bands were the sound of the first half of the first decade of the millennium – the Strokes, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Interpol – and that those bands, though initially thought to be both fresh and timeless, gave way to a new sound, the sound of LCD Soundsystem. He then uses Sound of Silver to demonstrate what a truly timeless sound is really like. Almost 10 years have passed and the tracks on Sound of Silver – from the classics like “All My Friends” and “Someone Great” through the ‘mere’ table-setters like “Get Innocuous” and “Time To Get Away” – are no less powerful than they were then. They shaped indie music. And while it helps to look at it through the prism of NYC, the shift from the Lower East Side (i.e. the Strokes) to Williamsburg (LCD) is emblematic of the shift in music over the last 15 years. I believe that the entire country has “moved” from Manhattan to Brooklyn, if you will.
Finally, one could argue that Leas’ book is more a tale of LCD’s place in music (to date) than it is about one specific album. Yet with the exception of coming back regularly to the pre-debut album single “Losing My Edge” (and let’s face it – you can’t discuss LCD without discussing that song) Leas stays on topic by dissecting the tracks on Sound of Silver and weaving them into his argument, and not the albums before and after, LCD Soundsystem and This Is Happening. It’s true he spend a lot of time talking about Murphy, his age, his style, his “retirement”, the final show, the resurrection of the band … none of which is Sound of Silver itself. But I for one feel that there is ample room in the story for all of this, and it only enhances my appreciation for the record. And isn’t that kind of the point? I couldn’t put the book down, nor could I stop listening to Sound of Silver as I read. Easily a 5-star entry into this series.