As any self-respecting alternative music fan can tell you, The Arcade Fire are the
band to namedrop at the moment. Although their all important underground indie cred has all but disappeared now (U2 have been taking the stage to the sound of Wake Up
one some of their arena dates this year), there was until recently one way of showing that you were a true fan of these guys, from long before Funeral
was acclaimed as the best album of 2004 by [url]http://www.pitchforkmedia.com[/url]. That was through ownership of the debut EP made by the band, dating from pre-Funeral
, which had become notoriously difficult to find as interest in the band began to go global. However, all that changed last month when the EP was re-released, giving the burgeoning fanbase of The Arcade Fire a chance to get their hands on songs that many of them had never had the oppurtunity to hear. Providing a clear indication of where the band could go, it's nevertheless a strange listen.
All the elements that make The Arcade Fire the band that they are there. The buildups through the song that take you from an easy beginning to an emotional crescendo; Win Butler's distinctive vocals; the faintly otherwordly sound of their music. However, in all three of these cases it's as if we're getting the music, only on a slightly distorted frequency, as if the radio isn't quite in tune. Old Flame
is a particularly obvious example of this, with lyrics culminating in
So why do we go
Through all this *** again
Your eyes are Flutteriní
Such pretty wings.
A moth flyiní into me
The same old flame again
It never ends
and a typically mournful accompaniment. That's one of the standout tracks on here, and one that's definitely worthy of a place on Funeral
, but that isn't true of every other song on the album, explaining the reason why Funeral
was such a surprise. I'm Sleeping In A Submarine
is built around keyboards, something that could arguably have been used more on the band's debut album, but suffers very clearly from the syndrome of the band not quite having found their sound. Featuring Chassagne on lead vocals, it has the more mysterious air that she gives their music, only without the feeling of absolute wonder that you get when you here the final moments of Funeral
, on In The Backseat
. Just as there's something strangely indefinable about the music contained on Funeral
, so it is with this EP, only this time it's not the feeling of euphoria that's hard to describe, but rather the feeling of the music not quite coming through to the listener, even though it definitely threatens to at several moments.
One of the problems is in fact the length of the songs on this EP. While the band might today be able to carry off songs lasting in excess of 6 minutes (indeed, one senses that they would thrive on such an opportunity), on this EP itís possibly fair to say that they werenít quite mature enough to make the songs fully work, with the result that on songs such as the particularly wistful No Cars Go
, and Vampire/Forest Fire
, the overall feel of the music is sacrificed somewhat. This isnít to say that the songs are by any means bad, indeed No Cars Go
captures the spirit of barely conceivable fear mixed with confusion that The Arcade Fire do so well in such a way that there are moments when it sounds as if the radio dial has clicked, such as the break in the music where Butler and Chassagneís vocals come together over samples to give the effect of the group emerging from the darkness and offering one unified clenched fist to all the troubles that blighted them with the making of their music to date. However, as was arguably inevitable, the material is blighted by the fact that itís virtually impossible to hear this from an objective standpoint, such has the been the justified hype about Funeral
While the band might have struggled with maintaining momentum in longer songs back in 2003 though, the one song here that is eminently skippable actually weighs in at just under 4 minutes. The Woodlands National Anthem
crosses the invisible musical line into a true oddity of the bandís back catalogue, being a faintly bluesy march that goes absolutely nowhere. Indeed, for the first 3 minutes of the song the listener finds himself subconsciously waiting for the famed Arcade Fire 180ļ musical U-Turn to appear, only to realise that itís just not going to happen. While there are some nice vocal harmonies on the song, thereís very little else thatís positive to be said about it. My Heart Is An Apple
therefore provides a welcome follow up, with Butlerís vocals at their most tortured, before the aforementioned U-turn delays itself through woodland noises and Chassagneís childish vocals, before suddenly slipping into the right gear and heading off into the sunset. The second song that wouldnít look out of place on Funeral
is Headlights Look Like Diamonds
, which sounds uncannily like a reversed version of pass the parcel; as it goes on, more and more layers keep on being added while Butler sings ominously of ďearthquakes setting off car alarms". Then, just when you canít take it any more, in come pounding drums, multi-layered vocals, and all sorts of other instruments that join in a frenzied chaos to bring the song to a strangely ordered conclusion before even going off on a coda uncannily like Crown Of Love
As already stated, Vampire/Forest Fire
goes on a bit too long without really getting to the point, although it does feature some of the bandís best lyrics, encompassing all their typical themes; parents, suburbia, apathy, and pure, unadulterated emotion. Whatís particularly strange about the song is the manner in which Win Butler seems to be consciously reigning in his dramatic tendencies, making it a very controlled, psychedelic sort of song, although the comparison between the lyrical content and the lyrical delivery makes it an oddity. Thatís true for the first 4 minutes anyway. After that we get duelling piano parts, some of those old Butler histrionics, and, like the clouds rolling away from covering the Sun, a sudden musical explosion where all the drama lacking for the first 4 minutes seemingly simultaneously decides that itís about time to make its presence felt. While the song may have a weak beginning, its ending is a worthy conclusion to the EP, laying the mood perfectly for what would come after.
Now, I can already tell what one of the criticisms of this review is going to be. That Iíve gone on too much about Funeral
, without saying enough about this album. Well, itís deliberate. In order to listen to this properly, Iíd say you need the bandís first full length album, in order to see quite where this led. As I said, all the elements of the bandís sound are here, but theyíre just not quite honed enough to make the extraordinary impression that Funeral
did on the music world. Put it this way; as a stand-alone EP this is the kind of thing that would make you very interested in the band, as itís clear that theyíve got something special going, which when they get right, really bursts into your mind. In context however, itís a far more intriguing listen, and one that I honestly think you get more out of. Definitely recommended for those who are already fans, and if you arenít (not an option I advise), this should be #2 on your shopping list. No prizes for guessing what #1 is.