Review Summary: Do you like rock music?
Well, Arcade Fire have released their fourth album which derives its named from a Soren Kierkegaard essay, pretended to be a different band, recorded in a Jamaican castle and yet have managed to come across a little less pretentious and more grounded than usual. That’s a feat in itself.
It’s been three years since their surprise grammy winning album The Suburbs, but Arcade Fire is back. Reflektor was preceded by some guerilla marketing inspired by symbols of Haitian Voodoo paired with the name which is derived from an essay entitled The Present Age by Soren Kierkegaard in 1846, that Butler felt really spoke to 2013. After some brief performances as The Reflektors, Arcade Fire pre-released on youtube paired with the 1959 film Black Orpheus and a few days later it was officially released.
Although they have recently been masquerading under the moniker of The Reflektors, Arcade Fire has kept busy since their last album The Suburbs. They have spent a lot of time in the Caribbean, specifically in Jamaica and Haiti, and it has greatly influenced the new album. Butler explained in a recent interview with the Rolling Stone that playing music in rural Haiti was a revolutionary experience for him because of the absence of a common musical history. Rhythmic elements and emotional vocals became the key for cross cultural musical engagement. In addition to Caribbean influences, Arcade Fire finally got to work with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem who they’ve been trying to work with since 2004. This coupled with the Caribbean influences have made the new album very dancy.
Dancy is certainly a different beast than previously seen in Arcade Fire’s music. Gone are the explicit references to neighborhoods, replaced by rara beats, moments of punctuating silence, and references to Greek myths. After three albums of a Neutral Milk Hotel sound, Arcade Fire have veered back to their roots in the direction of Bowie, New Order, and the Talking Heads.
Though they attempted to create a shorter album, Reflektor is split into two halves after coming in at just over 75 minutes. Infused with moments of punk fury, and Clash-esque bass lines, the first half has a rawer sound with songs like “Flashbulb Eyes” and “Normal Person.” The album opens with their single “Reflektor,” featuring David Bowie with a strong disco vibe, followed by tracks dancing around the issue of the soul stealing camera, skeptically questioning normality, and referencing the pace of modern culture. The fourth track on the album, “Here Comes the Night Time,” paints a picture of the sun setting in Haiti, where there are no lights that turn on after dark.
The second half is much more synthetic and ethereal, yet less self-aware. It paints heady pictures of the statue on the cover of the album: Eurydice and Orpheus. Orpheus was a Greek demigod who musically charmed Hades’ into bringing allowing Eurydice to come back to the surface; only to have Eurydice snatched back at the last moment. Three songs on the second half of the album deal with their story lyrically. The heavy-handed Porno bifurcates the second side, and bemoans the objectification of women. The album closes with the eleven minute Supersymmetry and peters out with undulating synths and Colin Stetson’s bass saxophone.
Arcade Fire spends more time figuring out sequencing of tracks than some bands spend making albums. Reflektor is a great example of this. Splitting the album into two discs has the effect of blurring the finish and start lines. The albums are unique enough as to be able to stand alone and yet connected enough that either album could be Side A. It feels as if Arcade Fire are getting away from their stereotyped pretension and beginning to make music they enjoy. Having two halves allowed them to explore two different styles. Both explorations are successful attempts and easily worth your time.