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Top Twenty Albums

LCD Soundsystem This Is Happening

Ted Leo

The Brutalist Bricks

[Matador]

Ted Leo’s commitment to old-school punk values is easy to admire. He really does believe, passionately, that music can be accessible to a wide audience without the corrupting influence of big business coming anywhere near it. He’s put that ideal into practice over the last 20 years, sticking doggedly to indies despite two of his last three labels being forced out of business due to modern record industry realities. What’s even easier to admire, though, is his strike-rate as a recording artist. After all, plenty of moral bands release unlistenable albums, after all. The Brutalist Bricks, his fifth album with the Pharmacists in the last 10 years, is an infinitely more focused, what-Leo-does-best follow-up to 2007’s Living With the Living, where Leo attempted to display his range with middling results. His command of the language of poppy turn-of-the-’70s punk and new wave remains preternatural. (No one does ultraearnest, anthemic, Strummer/Jones-style choruses better than Leo.) But what really makes The Brutalist Bricks so hot is that reining in the hey-we-can-play-reggae-too excesses lets you once again hear what a super-tight band the Pharmacists are, especially the rhythm section, which moves with a speedy, locked-in fluidity that makes most of your arena-packing pop-punk pretenders sound even more plodding than usual. —jh

26

cowbell

ted leo portrait by shawn brackbill

[DFA /Virgin]

James Murphy’s third album as LCD Soundsystem isn’t quite as revelatory as 2007’s Sound of Silver, but along with Silver it does prove conclusively (and gorgeously) that the man is something more than a hilarious crank and excellent musical mimic. On This Is Happening, Murphy’s even less interested in showing off his eerie knack for noteperfect recreations of old disco and dance-punk classics, or his ability to unveil a new style on each song and then prove he’s mastered it. Instead, he fixes on a kind of motorized-but-lush synth-rock throughout, a sound that’s indebted to Brian Eno without (usually) being too obvious about it. But while the songs may be less formally ostentatious, the production on This Is Happening is richer than ever, each song stuffed with bright little keyboard hooks and catchy percussive accents. Murphy often drapes these new slow-burning songs in a voice-obscuring layer of Bowie-inBerlin keyboard buzz, which is a bit perverse (and probably wholly intentional) considering that the songs on This Is Happening have more to say, about their author and his world, than either of Murphy’s previous albums. Initially cast as the snotty scourge of uptight dance music culture, a rather one-note role he chafed against pretty quickly, Murphy’s moved far beyond the simple sardonic slogans that made up the lyrics to his early singles. Having bravely tried for emotional earnestness on Silver and succeeded, Murphy’s jokes cut even deeper now—sharp standout moments on an otherwise tender, ruminative album. By turns withering and hilarious, gnomic and naked, This Is Happening is the sort of album that requires focused listening and multiple plays to reveal all of its nuances, both sonic and lyrical. It’s the definition of a grower aimed at grownups. Yet it’s still more surface-level thrilling than any album about middle-aged woes has a right to be.. —jH

Dimple Records' In-Store Magazine, December 2010  
Dimple Records' In-Store Magazine, December 2010  

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