Arcade Fire


Written by: TL on 11/12/2013 21:37:29

When Arcade Fire debuted with 2004's powerfully emotional "Funeral" the album quickly became an indie scene classic, and after the epicness and eclecticism of 2006's equally excellent "Neon Bible", the band was ready to step up in the limelight in 2010, when they reaped probably the hippest achievement ever: Winning a grammy for album of the year despite most of the mainstream having yet to get a clue about who the hell they were. If you ask me though, I honestly felt that they won the award based more on being the hippest name, because "Suburbs" struck me as disappointingly anonymous down the stretch, and this brings us now to the recently released fourth effort "Reflektor".

While I have reflected (I am a fucking comedian) on whether Arcade Fire's success has made the Quebecian sextet a band that's now cared about more in the mainstream or in indie scenes, one thing that's to be expected from them by now is that an album of theirs is going to be about more than just the music, and indeed, "Reflektor" has already emerged accompanied by a world-wide viral campaign with street art inspired by Haitian drawings and lyrics influenced by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Cool? Deep? Huh?

I guess it would be cool if I felt like it complimented the main thing here - the music that is - in a way that made the whole debacle feel like a coherency. The sad thing is though, that after more listens to "Reflektor" than I care to count, it's not really happening for me much more than "Suburbs" did and clearly nowhere near how "Funeral" and "Neon Bible" did. Based on strange rhythms and percussion instruments that generally gives an artsy twist to the Haitian music that influenced them, the songs on "Reflektor" strike me as increasingly more progressive and decreasingly narrative. The band gets all minimalistic, poetic and philosophic in the lyrical department, to the point where I don't feel as drawn as I'd want, towards making an effort to really listen up and figure out what they're really about. Instrumentally things are all over the place, with more weird noises, keys and effects being in play than I could probably distinguish if I tried, so just be prepared to hear saxophones, bongos, eerie samples, odd guitar effects and strange keyboards littered all over this one. Mostly though, these float in between each other, creating an admittedly unique, exotic and somewhat alien-feeling backdrop to the lyrics and vocal melodies, which are sometimes sung in English and sometimes in French, by both frontman Win Butler and his wife, multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne.

Having admittedly sounded skeptical so far, one thing I'll concede to Arcade Fire is that they've managed the simple feat of catchiness more consistently on "Reflektor" than they did on "Suburbs". Across the first disc we get at least three examples of this in haunting opener "Reflektor", the bouncy "Joan Of Arc" and in the flat out strange "Here Comes The Night Time", which takes the longest dip in tempo to rely on piano keys and xylophone before whirring back up to a speed that suggests crazy dancing. The creeping "Normal Person" is a dark horse on this disc as well, having a certain bite to its refrain and guitar signature that evokes some much welcome danger in the band's sound.

If things struck you as weird already across disc one's seven cuts though, then they'll go full art (or nut) -house on side two, where each track except opener "Here Comes The Night Time II" seemingly meanders about forever, topped by closer "Supersymmetry" at roughly five minutes of music and six minutes of weird noises. Keeping one's ears peeled to and through these ones seems to me like a challenge for hardcore fans only, and in honest the surging single "Afterlife" is the sole highlight on this half of the record, calling back to the sentimentalism of "Neon Bible" in a way that unfortunately makes me feel more nostalgic for that album than it makes me curious about this one.

Summing things up "Reflektor" is a strange album to me indeed, but perhaps not in the way it was intended to be strange: To me the weird thing is that while Arcade Fire have no doubt laboured to create this coherent work of art, I think "Reflektor" is best by virtue of the simple, individual strengths of its catchier songs, but across its entire +85 minutes of length, I admit it gets too experimental for my taste, and I lose interest as things fail to be engaging on what I feel would be a consistent enough basis. So while I admire the band's ambition, might I have the audacity to suggest coming down to earth just a notch? I mean it's not like "Keep The Car Running", "Antichrist Television Blues", "Wake Up" or "Rebellion" were revolutionary compositions - au contraire - yet from where I'm sitting, those remain the highest marks of the Canadians' career so far.


Download: Reflektor, Here Comes The Night Time, Joan Of Arc, Afterlife
For The Fans Of: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, The Flaming Lips (yes I realise they "feuded"), MGMT, The National

Release Date 28.10.2013
Merge / Sonovox

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