Review Summary: Reflektor, reflektor on the wall...
After 2010’s surprise Grammy win Canadian indie-rock outfit Arcade Fire have been relatively quiet. The band broke radio-silence only recently with their graffiti-based ad campaign for their new album. The band’s recent gigs, some of which they have held with the “The Reflektors” pseydonym, hint at the band’s willingness to keep a low profile as well as to challenge and possibly alienate their new audience. The band’s request that audiences come to concerts either formally dressed or in costume has already generated complaints on the other side of the Atlantic. Arcade Fire’s new album Reflektor
, on the other hand, has as little as possible to do with a low profile. The 85 minute double-album is the band’s longest and most experimental album, and according to the band inspirations for its themes come from greek mythology and the 19th century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Musically the album has everything from Caribbean carnival-fare to ambient electronics. So is Reflektor
ambitious, testing, or megalomaniacal?
Opening track “Reflektor” feels like a combination of all three. In return for the seven minutes that it demands from its listener, the track offers a handsome disco-prog epic, which fits guitars, synthesizers, vocal harmonies, French lyrics, violins and saxophones over a number of percussion instruments. Everything leads to the climax at the end of the track, where David Bowie suddenly comes in. Undoubtedly there is something Bowie-like about the track, being a bit like a combination between his late 70’s Berlin material and the 80’s Let’s Dance
album. “Reflektor” is an appropriate beginning to the album, as it hints at many of the directions the rest of the album takes. For example many of the album’s tracks in a similar way to “Reflektor” utilize pronounced, driving percussion to keep the often long tracks from standing still. As a result, Reflektor
is Arcade Fire’s most danceable album.
Each of Reflektor’s
two CDs has its own persona. Disc one features a nocturnal carnival atmosphere, while the second half is more theatrical and orchestral. Tracks on side one range from the ska-inflected “Flashbulb Eyes” to “Normal Person”’s straightforward guitar-based rock. Apart from "Reflektor" the highlight of the first half is “Here Comes The Night Time”, where jubilant rhythms and carelessly naïve piano melodies accompany Win Butler’s sarcastic words to pompous missionaries. “If you want to be righteous, get in line”, Butler tells them, refuting them shortly after: “If there’s no music up in heaven then what’s it for?”
On the second half orchestration plays a bigger role, especially on the violin-filled disc opener “Here Comes The Night Time II” and the song pair “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”, which is the heart of the second half. The songs based on the Greek myth are Reflektor’s
most organic combination of Arcade Fire’s new-found rhythmic chops and old strengths. “Awful Sound” begins with acoustic guitar, but descends into orchestral cacophony as the song goes on, while the hopeful group-singing of the band carries on until the abrupt end. On “It’s Never Over” violent, punching drums contrast with more blissful sections, after which the returning drums seem all the more impactful. In both songs, the juxtapositions accomplish an intense “Us vs. the world” feeling. In typical Arcade Fire fashion, there is still a final highlight on the second to last track “Afterlife”, which gorgeously combines the jubilant music of the first half with the heavier lyrical themes of the second.
is quite a mish-mash of diverging themes and musical influences, it comes as no surprise that the album doesn’t maintain its cohesiveness throughout. Although the division to two different halves saves the album from the most egregious genre clashes, the division doesn’t always work. For example “Porno”’s 80’s electropop synth-throb feels lost amidst the album’s theatrical second half. Despite the repetition of certain lyrical themes and lines, it is difficult to grasp Reflektor
as a cohesive concept-album, thought it appears to be meant as one.
is Arcade Fire’s thus far biggest, most versatile, most confusing and likely most opinion-dividing album. It is at once ambitious, testing and megalomaniacal. If one wanted to call it pretentious and full of itself, such criticisms still wouldn’t be too far off the mark. However, all such observations and accusations about the concept and impulses behind the work are missing the most essential: Reflektor
is a damn good album full of gorgeous music.