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North American Scum is both vintage LCD Soundsystem and a textbook specimen of disco-punk

James Murphy, the mastermind and frontman of LCD Soundsystem, has a new album.

Still Disco-Punk, Still Spoiling for a Fight

THERE are probably more peaceable ways to usher an album into the world than with a single called “North American Scum.” But if you’re James Murphy, the mastermind and frontman of LCD Soundsystem, peaceable is hardly what you’re going for. Brash and propulsive is more like it, and by those criteria the track fulfills its calling. It may be lousy as diplomacy, but it’s a monster on the dance floor.

In other words, “North American Scum” is both vintage LCD Soundsystem and a textbook specimen of disco-punk, the subgenre that Mr. Murphy helped foment. The track bears some of his sonic trademarks: throbbing bass line, thudding kick drum, the snap of hi-hats and hand claps. It also has his attitude, an uneasy whorl of self-loathing and self-aggrandizing laced with casually stinging social critique.

For the throngs of indie-rock and dance kids who regard Mr. Murphy as an A-list name, the single won’t eclipse the memory of “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House,” a floor-shaking salvo from two years ago. But the album on which “North American Scum” appears — “Sound of Silver,” which Capitol Records is releasing on Tuesday — represents, as a whole, the strongest stuff of Mr. Murphy’s career. And that’s including “45:33,” his discocentric workout suite commissioned by Nike and made available last fall through iTunes.

Mr. Murphy opened up about the album, and his musical history, in a recent interview at the West Village headquarters of DFA Records, the label he formed in 2001 with Tim Goldsworthy, an influential British producer, and Jonathan Galkin, a mutual friend. Tousled and garrulous, Mr. Murphy sipped a homemade cappuccino in the high-ceilinged room that serves as his jujitsu studio. Downstairs, in a different studio, the electronic-music artist known as the Juan MacLean was working on his next DFA album.

The conversation began with a confession: Mr. Murphy missed fighting. He had been a competitive kickboxer for a year after high school (undefeated, he claimed). As he would soon divulge in a blog maintained by a British newspaper, he was training in martial arts again, despite the strain it put on his 37-year-old frame.

Jujitsu concerns itself with the push and pull of opposing forces, a subject that inspires Mr. Murphy. “That’s where I think meaning is,” he said. “I mean, anything that’s resolvable is boring, musically. And if it’s too chaotic, you don’t feel tension, it’s chaos.”

Extending the analogy to issues of taste, he cited Andy Warhol, as he often does: “Warhol had resonance because it was high art and low art. And you could argue about it endlessly.”

It’s no coincidence that Mr. Murphy has a fascination with an art-world polymath who strongly influenced both the Velvet Underground and David Bowie. Crossbreed those cultural forces, and you might get something like the LCD Soundsystem aesthetic, a mixture of cunning grit and blatant artifice. (The video for “North American Scum” is a polyurethane odyssey in which Mr. Murphy slips out of a photo shoot through a door to outer space.) “I’m all for the Factory,” Mr. Murphy said, again invoking Warhol. “I’m all for the lie. But there’s a difference between a cheap lie and a beautiful lie.”

Growing up in what was then the featureless suburbia of Princeton Junction, N.J., Mr. Murphy immersed himself in the beautiful lie of rock idealism. He took frequent trips to the Princeton Record Exchange in the nearby college town. There he bought albums for their covers, stumbling onto personal touchstones like the New Wave-inspired first 12-inch by Ministry and the “really scrawny, really needly” first album by Modern English.

On the burbling title track of “Sound of Silver,” Mr. Murphy glances back, in a sidelong fashion, at that time:

Sound of Silver, talk to me

Makes you want to feel like a teenager

Until you remember the feelings of

A real-life emotional teenager

Then you think again

Mr. Murphy’s own teenage life wasn’t so terrible, but he did feel isolated from any community of like-minded music geeks, a source of deep vexation that he now sees as liberating. “Nobody told me that if I liked the Minutemen, I wasn’t supposed to like Echo and the Bunnymen,” he said. “I didn’t have any of that scene pressure.”

That came later, after Mr. Murphy headed to New York, ostensibly to go to college. He began running the live sound for punk and indie-rock bands, brushing up against some unexpected pieties, posturing and backbiting. It got worse when he became the drummer for Pony, a band that suffered the disdain of some indie peers.

The best thing Mr. Murphy would get out of that period was a recording studio. In 1993 he decided to build one himself and reached out to Steve Albini, an engineer known for his outspoken adherence to analog equipment. Mr. Albini and a colleague, Bob Weston, helped Mr. Murphy get started.

“All my engineering skills come from the lessons I learned from those guys,” Mr. Murphy said. The result was Plantain Recording House, which would outlast both Pony and the next band Mr. Murphy played drums for, Speedking.

Around this time Mr. Murphy began working as the live sound engineer for Six Finger Satellite, a synth-laden postpunk outfit that included John MacLean, a k a the Juan MacLean. “It seems silly now,” Mr. MacLean said, “but bringing synthesizers onstage as an indie-rock band was absolutely sacrilegious then. People would either laugh at us or be in utter disbelief.”

Similar frustrations and fixations prompted Mr. Murphy to strike a producing alliance with Mr. Goldsworthy, a founding partner in the London-based dance label Mo’ Wax. They named their label Death From Above, after a nickname for Mr. Murphy’s bruising Six Finger Satellite P.A. system, though it was soon effectively shortened to DFA. As a related entity called The DFA, Mr. Murphy and Mr. Goldsworthy produced the label’s first release: a 12-inch vinyl single by the Rapture, “House of Jealous Lovers,” which established a beachhead for disco-punk. The second single was by the Juan Maclean.

The third was LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge,” in which an aging hipster frets about his obsolescence, defensively ticking off his bona fides. The song’s aggressive irony masked its quiet sincerity: after making a name as a D.J. at some DFA dance parties, Mr. Murphy really had begun to feel the encroachment of “the art-school Brooklynites in little jackets/And borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ’80s.” So he strolled into a glass house with a pocketful of stones, and the result was his breakout indie hit.

At that point and for a while afterward, LCD Soundsystem was literally a solo project: Mr. Murphy furnished most of the instrumental parts, and all of the hyperdeclaratory vocals, by himself. “Then it became obvious to me that this was a band that could open for the Rapture,” he said. “I never expected us to do more than that, really.”

A core of collaborators, including the drummer Pat Mahoney, the keyboardist Nancy Whang and the bassist Tyler Pope, coalesced into a working group, an evolution that informs a song on the new album, “All My Friends.” One reason “Sound of Silver” outdoes its predecessor is that it’s more of a collective effort.

But the direction of LCD Soundsystem still rests completely with Mr. Murphy, which seems to suit the other members fine. (They stay busy, at any rate: Mr. Pope, for one, is a member of !!!, another disco-punk band.) And the sardonic LCD Soundsystem tone is clearly an outgrowth of a single complicated personality.

For that matter, so are the flashes of emotional transparency that pop up in “Sound of Silver.” Like “Someone Great,” a meditation on loss with a pulsating electronic track repurposed from the Nike mix. And “New York I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down,” a city dweller’s nostalgic complaint, and the rare instance in which Mr. Murphy wrote the lyrics well before the recording session.

Has Mr. Murphy, who lives with his wife, Mandy Coon, also a musician, and their dog in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, mellowed out? “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Monstrously.” Yet while he acknowledges that the new album conveys a sense of release, he’s obviously still spoiling for a fight. In addition to “North American Scum,” the new album includes a song called “Us v. Them.”

Then there’s the plan that Mr. Murphy hatched in a meeting with marketing executives from Capitol a few months ago. Noting that the “Dreamgirls” soundtrack had topped Billboard’s album chart one week with sales of about 60,000 copies — fewer than the first LCD Soundsystem album has sold to date — he reasoned that “Sound of Silver” had a chance at a No. 1 debut. He just needed everyone who bought the first album to buy the second one, all at once, and in spite of the Internet leak.

The idea, which Mr. Murphy has plugged on message boards and in interviews (including one with Billboard), sounds almost like a prank, a flash-mobbing of the pop charts. Mr. Murphy has described it as “a social experiment,” but of course there’s a simpler and more honest explanation: “I’m secretly very, very competitive.”
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