LCD SOUNDSYSTEM'S James Murphy -- and LCD Soundsystem is James Murphy -- is looking for a cowbell endorsement.
After all, Murphy does a cowbell solo at a key moment in "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," a bouncy track that recalls the classic "Saturday Night Live" sketch in which actor Christopher Walken parodied a record producer insisting that "more cowbell" was the key to making Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper" a hit.
"Hey, guess what? I got a fever," Walken insisted. "And the only prescription is . . . more cowbell!"
Apparently. There's now a Web site, the Cowbell Project, where you can find a list of dozens of cowbell-enriched songs (www.geekspeakweekly.com/cowbell).
Oddly enough, "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House" isn't on it, perhaps because LCD Soundsystem is still a little below the radar, though increasingly less so. Murphy is also co-founder of Brooklyn's very cool DFA (Death From Above) Records and half of a much-in-demand production team with Tim Goldsworthy, responsible for crafting hits for red-hot dance acts the Rapture, Black Dice and the Juan MacLean (whose DFA album will be released July 4).
Earlier this year, Capitol Records signed a distribution deal with DFA and released LCD Soundsystem's self-titled double album, which includes one disc of all the 12-inch singles Murphy has released since starting the project four years ago, as well as one disc of new material. A sterling example of what's been dubbed dance rock, the album is a generally upbeat affair full of throbbing bass lines and pulsating rhythms, as well as rock-smart melodies and lyrics.
What frequently elevates the music is the mischievousness of those lyrics. Take the very first LCD single, 2001's "Losing My Edge," which satirizes the hipper-than-you snobbishness of indie musicians, critics and collectors. "I was there in 1968 / I was there at the first Can show in Cologne," the vocalist proclaims. "I was there when Captain Beefheart started up his first band / I told him, 'Don't do it that way. You'll never make a dime.' "
Thankfully, Murphy's not above mocking himself. "I hear everybody you know is more relevant than anybody I know," he sings, worrying that "the kids are coming up from behind. . . . I'm losing my edge to better-looking people with better ideas and more talent. And they're actually really, really nice!"
"I try to have fun," Murphy admits, "and to make people happy and unhappy at the same time."
As in "Movement," a wry feedback-drenched diatribe against much of the current music scene, which, Murphy suggests, is "like a movement without the bother of all the meaning."
By the way, that includes "dance rock," the apparent successor to "punk funk," the now quarter-century-old meeting ground of new wave/punk and disco, resurgent in such groups as Franz Ferdinand and the Rapture, whose acclaimed debut, "Echoes," was produced by Murphy and Goldsworthy.
The connection that Murphy senses is "between opportunism and [expletive]. First of all, there's so many things that get lumped into [punk funk] that have wildly different motives. I think the motives for Liquid Liquid and Gang of Four were very different. The motives for James Chance and ESG, though seemingly in the same world, were very different. I think Family Fodder records and PiL records had very different goals. That was a pretty exciting time, like postwar American fiction, just a bit of a crazy, mixed-up anything goes period.
"I see today as rampant hipsterism and people jumping on bandwagons and grasping for relevance in a really meaningless way," Murphy says. "I think dance rock is 99 percent of the time a complete abomination. I like making music that sort of falls into that category, but I take dance music really seriously, and playing a slightly disco beat under mediocre guitar is garbage."
As "Movement" suggests, scenes tend to crop up around styles, of which Murphy is also wary.
"I think [people] imagine that there are scenes and they just want to play music that goes with it, and I say that with a lot of love and disdain," he says. "I remember being in an indie rock band and wishing I was accepted into a scene that would make me feel happy and complete, wishing I was on Touch and Go, touring with Big Black -- wouldn't that be awesome!
"And so people start making music that sounds like other things because they envision a scene that will fulfill them. It's a really vapid gesture, and a gesture that I've made, so I don't feel like I'm being superior about it. But it's not a good way to make good music."
Music's been central to the 35-year-old Murphy's life since he was growing up in Princeton Junction, N.J., and in his early teens discovered the Princeton Record Exchange (named after the town, not the university).
"The Princeton Record Exchange was a really famous classical and jazz store, one of the premier collectors stores in the world," Murphy recalls. "And then the people that worked there started buying punk rock records. When I first bought punk rock records, there were about four crates and that was it -- a room full of classical and jazz and a couple of crates of punk rock records. And it totally changed my life."
In fact, Murphy spent much of the '90s -- his twenties -- drumming on the indie rock circuit with a punk rock band called Pony and its hard-core successor, Speedking; both fell apart. Fortunately, Murphy had a fallback: He had taught himself basic recording technique on a four track and apprenticed under recording engineers Bob Weston and Steve Albini (finally making that Big Black connection), and in the mid-'90s he opened Plantain Studios in Brooklyn.
"I had really quit," Murphy says. "In the phase between Speedking and DFA, I really took a big break from making music. Indie rock really kind of bummed me out and took the wind out of me as a reason to make music. I was just working in the studio, finding jobs, really in a no man's land until I found dance music."
More properly, it found him in 1999 when David Holmes, Irish electronica dance and film composer, showed up with producer-programmer Goldsworthy. "None of these guys knew me from a hole in the wall; it was purely because they came to use my studio," Murphy says. "They knew somebody who knew somebody who knew me."
While Goldsworthy, co-founder of England's influential Mo' Wax label and a key member of UNKLE, and Murphy worked on Holmes's "Bow Down to the Exit Sign" album, they discovered they had much in common, from a shared love for the Smiths and Gang of Four to the coincidence that the first rock shows for both had been the Ramones.
DFA started out producing local bands in New York, melding guitar-powered punk and danceable grooves. (The label's motto was "bridging the huge gap between Donna Summer and the Stooges.") One of its first major successes was the Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers," and besides DFA's own acts they worked with bands like Radio 4 and did remixes for Le Tigre, Junior Senior and Nine Inch Nails.
Along the way, Murphy started LCD Soundsystem, releasing a string of catchy singles and eventually transforming what had been a solo studio project into a six-piece band.
"We play like we're a cover band or Roxy Music live," Murphy says. "It doesn't sound exactly like the record, but you're doing your best to represent the song and replace the missing fidelity with energy."
Meanwhile, Murphy and Goldsworthy have been described as the "Neptunes of punk funk," though Murphy responds: "Oh, my God, I don't want to do any of it! I love producing music, and I would totally make a pop record. We think that something that's missing is that crossover of underground/overground and I wanted to figure out a way to do that. It just happens to involve all this machinery that I'm not really interested in."
For example, they were approached to co-write a song with pop-brat Britney Spears.
"We knew it was totally under the auspices of us being the new hot thing, the next Neptunes garbage," Murphy says. "What we really wanted to do was work with Britney the way we [usually] work with artists. We talk to them about what they're interested in, trying to see where their inhibitions are, where their real taste is versus their vision of what they're supposed to be doing, and find ways into the kind of awkward spaces that are more interesting than what they actually wind up doing. This isn't the easiest line to toe with people; it takes time.
"And with someone like Britney Spears, what is she interested in? What is she bored of? Does she even know? She was a child star, which is a sure-fire way not to have any idea what you're about because you've been designed to please adults since you were 10. We were curious to see if we play her all these different types of music, is any of it going to strike a chord with her, or just seem 'cool.' You never know.
"But we didn't have the time. There's nothing interesting you can do in an afternoon. So we pulled the plug."
All that remains is a notebook, with the lyrics to LCD's "Yeah" on one page and Britney's stillborn lyric scribblings on the next.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM -- Appearing with M.I.A. Sunday at the 9:30 club.