James Murphy etc: “Greenberg”

A funny year for music so far, personally speaking. It seems that, despite the many albums I’ve liked, there have been a good few that’ve been, one way or another, kind of disappointing: albums I’ve looked forward to very much, then neurotically restrained myself from writing about, due to my self-imposed rule about negative criticism generally wasting time and space. There’s still too much stuff to enthuse about, after all.

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A funny year for music so far, personally speaking. It seems that, despite the many albums I’ve liked, there have been a good few that’ve been, one way or another, kind of disappointing: albums I’ve looked forward to very much, then neurotically restrained myself from writing about, due to my self-imposed rule about negative criticism generally wasting time and space. There’s still too much stuff to enthuse about, after all.



I’ve been sat on James Murphy’s “Greenberg” soundtrack for a while now, and it’s only recently that I’ve started to really like it. Initially, Murphy’s extra-curricular business sounded oddly self-conscious, an academic satire on the sort of music that stereotypically accompanies a notionally indie-ish movie: could the xylophone-and-strum conjunctions of “Dear You” sound any more twee?

That might still be true, but the strengths of these sketchy songs are becoming ever more apparent, I think. A bunch of them, it transpires, are co-written and performed with Al Doyle from Hot Chip (a peripatetic member of LCD Soundsystem, if memory serves), who evidently shares Murphy’s penchant for a kind of obsessively clever record-collector rock.

Consequently, the superb “People” finds Murphy essaying his clenched falsetto (as heard on a section of “45:33”, though his voice sounds strikingly less adenoidal this year) on a piece of skinny electro-soul that’s one part Suicide, one part Lee Perry, and about 18 parts Timmy Thomas’ “Why Can’t We Live Together?”. “Photographs”, meanwhile, is a frail and affecting piano ballad that has something of The Kinks about it.

And so it goes on, charmingly. “Sleepy Baby”: “Another Green World”-era Eno. “Birthday Song”: ingenuous indie-folk, with squeaking guitar strings for added lo-fi credibility. “Thumbs”: gamelan-ish homebaked Glass systems. “Gente”: flamenco! It’s all good, climaxing with “Please Don’t Follow Me”, one of Murphy’s fabulously awkward stabs at being plaintive, built on a needling piano line that reminds me indistinctly of something from “Berlin”, or “Hunky Dory”, maybe.

There are also smart/droll selections from Galaxie 500, Steve Miller, The Sonics and Duran Duran mixed in, and a song credited to LCD Soundsystem, “Oh You (Christmas Song)”, which hits the jackpot for reference-hunters by being, ostensibly, an NYC post-punk rescoring of Pink Floyd’s “Money”.

In the hands of most other musicians, this sort of intensive magpie-pop would get bogged down by its own cleverness, but Murphy can process this stuff with a wit and sleight-of-hand that makes it satisfying beyond providing sport for his fellow trainspotters. And none of it, for what it’s worth, sounds much like the forthcoming LCD Soundsystem album…

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