There has been enough praise heaped upon James Murphy to satisfy the most approval-crazed musician. Thus, this review will spare the protracted introductory applause Murphy and his work would normally be due. As you likely already know, Murphy is the face behind those acronym’d loveables, LCD Soundsystem and the DFA production team (with Tim Goldsworthy), and is associated with the well of dance-infused rock – or rock-infused dance, take your pick – tapped in the early part of this decade that has yet to run dry. Murphy has endeared himself to fans and critics with body-moving music for the cerebral crowd. When listening to Murphy, having some musical sophistication is often as important as having rhythm. His singles are unabashed dance tracks for those listeners who can theorize Liquid Liquid’s aesthetics, if not comfortably move their feet to its beats.
Fabriclive 36, part of the London nightclub Fabric’s DJ mix series, features Murphy with Pat Mahoney, LCD’s drummer and former Les Savvy Fav member, behind the turntables. Murphy and Mahoney are no strangers to the DJ booth, but their work as party-movers is not usually recorded and available to non-clubgoers. Thus, the initial novelty of this mix: The opportunity for the stay-at-home bunch to hear these connoisseurs work a dance floor into a frenzy.
But the disk’s significance goes deeper for Murphy. In spite of his musical talent, he’s less an artist than a curator. His true gift has not been his production or performance – though he’s got mighty chops in both. Rather, it is the breadth of his pop erudition combined with his scrupulous ear that distinguishes him. A song like “Losing My Edge,” one of LCD’s first singles, displays these features clearly. Deadpanning the lament of an aging hipster who’s lost his step, Murphy catalogues the sights and sounds that qualify his scenester status atop a beat that could well have been lifted from the list he recites. It is a showcase of excellent balance. If not for his choice taste and execution, “Losing My Edge” would have been obnoxiously self-referential rather than the masterstroke of geekdom-gone-wild it is.
Murphy and Mahoney’s Fabriclive mix is a worthy listen, then, because it is a brief opportunity to hear the appropriators return to the originals. The mix here, perhaps expectedly, delves heavily into disco and primitive house. Handclaps and slap basses, to say nothing of the synthesizers in endless supply, dominate the set. Despite the mix’s older timbre, which suggests an update on what a downtown New York club might have spun in 1982, Murphy and Mahoney invoke tracks spanning the past and present. Standouts like “Love Has Come Around,” a tidy number by the disco outfit Donald Byrd and 125th Street, NYC, and “Still Going Theme,” a propulsive beat by recent DFA-signees Still Going, blend seamlessly across the mix. Fabriclive 36 amounts to a tour that is both dated and current, the paradox on which Murphy has brilliantly staked his fortune. It is a thoroughly entertaining listen.