Review Summary: Haha, haha. Arcade Fire, ladies and gentlemen!
I’m just gonna be straight up and admit that I really don’t remember much about The Suburbs
, and I’m going to make an educated guess and assume that most non-diehards probably don’t either. After becoming the biggest indie band since…well pretty much ever, Arcade Fire just sort of gave us an Arcade Fire album. It was different, but was it the evolution we saw from Funeral
to Neon Bible
? No. Which is why Reflektor
is such an important album for the band: it’s Arcade Fire expanding and pushing their sound forward, while reminding us that Win Butler and crew are way more self aware than we ever gave them credit for.
is deeply rooted in the 80s, and while it draws equally from new-wave, post-punk and overblown arena rock, it’s hard to not feel like the band just transplanted back thirty years ago. However, unlike most of the retro-pastiche indie scene that’s been exploding the past few years, Arcade Fire does so with a wink and a nod to the audience. The first disc of the record features live audio intro/outro takes on most the tracks, giving the disc a laid back air of goofiness that makes the 80s worship feel more like tribute and artistic direction than just lazy theft and pandering. The production by LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy is also a huge plus, as the disc’s levels are as well balanced crisply placed as can possibly be. It’s a lush and absolutely gorgeous sounding album, to say the least.
It’s what the band does with their hipster-club ready dance songs that really lifts Reflektor
up, however. Whereas the first disc takes us on a journey through Bowie-esque jams and jangle-pop bops, disc two flips that on its head by creating a much more dynamic and profound atmosphere. The album is called Reflektor
for more than just a song title; the second half seems to take the sonic avenues explored by disc one and twist and weave them into much more classically bombastic and ‘epic’ Arcade Fire songs. The second disc is devoid of the tongue in cheek self applause and random bouts of Germs punk fury, instead exploring more repetitive and hypnotic versions of the sounds they first presented to us on the previous disc. As the final twelve eleven minute track “Supersymmetry” seeks to break down the themes they’ve presented both musically and lyrically (the album deals heavily with the perception of the self from the other, albeit with the trademark Win Butler vague randomness that causes its message to become diluted and messy) and the album loops back into “Reflektor”, the overall purpose of the dual disc aspect of an album that, truth be told, really could have fit onto one disc, really begins to take shape.
A grand concept and meta-outlook on the sequencing of the album can’t completely override its faults, however. While I can’t imagine Reflektor
being the same album with the same level of intrigue without all of the cuts, at 75 minutes the record is just too long for the average music listener. The album finds itself in a catch 22, where if something was cut the record would feel incomplete but with all of its parts intact instead feels bloated and full of itself. And with Butler’s voice still being fairly one note and draining over the full course of a record (still waiting on a performance to top “Intervention”, six years later), Reflektor
does collapse in on itself at times.
Frankly, that’s completely fine. There are enough interesting motifs and musical adventuring on Reflektor
that the negatives seem inconsequential on the whole. Is it the perfect album fans have been waiting for since Funeral
? No, and Arcade Fire will probably never make a perfect record. They’re a band that prides itself on doing whatever the hell they want, and this time they’ve certainly made a record worthy of intense scrutiny and dissection. Now let’s just hope we can see what they will do next, and that they don’t break up from the backlash from failing to make another “Wake Up” yet again
Also, protip to second time listeners: listen to the second disc, starting with “Here Comes the Night Time II" before the first disc on your second listen. Believe me, it’ll really help you to get a feel for the record.