The much anticipated new album by Montreal’s Arcade Fire turned more than a few heads. Some reacted in sheer horror at first single, the title track “Reflektor”, having a rhythm somewhere between Remain In Light-era Talking Heads and disco. This of course has much to do with a large portion of the album being produced and created with LCD Soundsystem’s mastermind James Murphy. Also, interviews with vocalist Win Butler revealed his recent fascination with Haiti, spending time there with his wife and bandmate Régine Chassagne (of Haitian descent) doing some relief work. The joy of the country’s festive traditional music also found its way into the rhythm of many of the new songs. Before the album was released the band also premiered another song in this vein, “Afterlife” at their performance on SNL. The show was followed by a half hour late night special that veered into the bizarre, called “Here Comes The Night Time” centered around an album track of the same name. I’ve included it in the video links below. How dare they sound.. happy? And how dare they release a double album? Don’t they know that hardly anybody (myself excluded) sits through albums these days? I mean it’s all about 30 second commercial snippets and ringtones right?
Well the “double” album is really only just over 75 minutes. 85 if you count a ten minute sound collage in the pre-gap preceding the first track. To hear this, and it only works on some CD players, you have to start track one and rewind to the -10:00 mark. The album is split into two discs to accommodate this and to make the new music a bit more digestible. “Reflektor” kicks off the first disc with a groove unheard in any previous Arcade Fire music, with the exception of maybe “Sprawl II” from the last album. It’s a bit spooky having Win and Régine sing longingly to each other “I thought I’d found the connector.. but it was just a reflector”. A paranoid almost-love song. Like much of the album, there’s a hazy dreamlike quality to the production that reveals a bit more detail with each listen. “We Exist” then starts with a beat not too much unlike “Billie Jean”. This song is more a statement of purpose if anything. This is one of the more “rock’ songs if one were to categorize. Then comes the experimentation. Arcade Fire does dub reggae? “Flashbulb Eyes” is a short excursion into just that. Given the palate explored here, it works. Then we enter into an unexpected underground Mardi Gras called “Here Comes The Night Time”. The song switches pace several times and has a few layers of multi-rhythm going on. And then full on samba break, conga lines and… back to the main beat again. One of my favorites here. Very exciting. Switch gears to.. disjointed punk rock with pianos? Is anything as strange as a “Normal Person”? The chorus bursts into a noisy blast of angst. The vocal and lyrical delivery definitely show the LCD influence, particularly, “North American Scum”. “You Already Know” sounds like an idea from The Suburbs that was given steroids. It’s the closest thing to previous Arcade Fire on this set. “Joan of Arc” starts out as a very anarchist track which then quickly jumps into a Gary Glitter/T-Rex glam swagger. The end of the song swells into echo and then.. a break. Go refill your drink and switch discs.
Disc two starts out nostalgically with the sound that used to start old Capitol “XDR” cassettes. “Here Comes The Night Time II” is the dark step-sibling to the original. It’s a gloomy ode to the sadness one can incur on a lonely weekend when nobody seems to be calling you to join the fun. “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” is a sad song of rejection accompanied by a keyboard that sounds like a cassette slagging and running a bit slow and warbly. Then it gives way to a big hopeful string section that is uplifting. The counterpart to this is the following song “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”. Both stem from Win Butler’s recent fascination with the 1958 film Black Orpheus. This one combines harder rocking guitars with a funky beat and washes of sparkling synths. Definitely a standout, highlighting Régine’s importance in the band. What next? “Porno”. A keyboard line that reminds me of Paul McCartney & Wings’ “Wonderful Christmastime”. A song about shame of selfishness and appreciation of true love. “Afterlife” follows next. A scared look at the hereafter. “We know it’s gone, but where did it go?”. This is by far one of my favorite tracks on the album. Win and Régine’s harmonizing here is so perfect. Again, so many layers to the music, over a bed of African and Brazilian influenced rhythms. This one might make David Byrne & co. proud (or feeling ripped off, but I’m hoping the former), for having learned so much from classic Talking Heads albums. Wrapping up the whole big thing is “Supersymmetry”, a reflective (reflektive?) continuation of the ideas in the previous song. here the song tells of a lost love and moving on with “I know you’re living in my mind, but it’s not the same as being alive”. The song has a meditational vibe and lets the layers build and then fall away into a quiet ending. If you let the song keep playing past the silence, the last five minutes of the album are a very somber collage of atmospheric sounds that give you some quiet to come down from everything you just heard.
I’ve found over a few repeated listens that this album rewards you for your patience and draws you in. The band took some major risks here, knowing some would write them off as LCD Arcadesystem Goes to Haiti without stepping back and realizing that the band has been through changes in their lives and have found new influences and are using them to push them creatively. Why make “No Cars Go” again? They already did that. They aren’t going to make a *better* “No Cars Go”. The bands that I’ve always found the most interesting are the ones where their albums are all different. These songs intrigue me and make me want to go back and listen again. This collection proves that the band are still full of ideas and the hunger to explore the sonic realm. Definitely worthy of a spot on my list of “Rob’s Favorite Things” this year.
Check out some great videos and performances from the album:
“Here Comes The Night Time” (TV special – also includes “We Exist” and “Normal Person”):
“Supersymmetry” (Live from outside Capitol Studios 10/29/13):