Review Summary: A grand, inflated, endlessly inspired assertion of sonic brilliance.
Arcade Fire are in a rather enviable position at this stage of their career path. They have established a widespread commercial and critical appeal while operating primarily as artists-in the very literal sense of the word- rather than musicians. They have diversified their sound from album to album, not in an attempt to garner a new legion of fans with each release, but rather to accompany each record’s respective narrative and thematic tones. Each work has been representative of a uniform and carefully calculated vision, be it the lavish string-laced production on Funeral
or the thematically bold commentary regarding the monotonous nature of contemporary society evident on The Suburbs
. As such, the bands fourth, almost absurdly anticipated release Reflektor
, regardless of its quality, will be viewed as a work with a serious sense of artistic integrity.
is impossible to talk about in regards to the strength of its individual songs. Instead, the band suggests it is best listened to as a double LP, with two distinct halves that nonetheless weave similar thematic tendencies across the combined 13 tracks and 75 minute run time. Early singles, coupled with the James Murphy producer credit, had most listeners expecting an aesthetic combination of 80’s dance music and the group’s knack for stylistically ambitious arrangements. Indeed, lead single and title track “Reflektor” begins seemingly in the midst of a packed, restless dancefloor, but finds its lyricism drifting elsewhere as Butler croons, “if this is heaven/ I don’t know what it’s for/ if I can’t find you there / I don’t care.”
Yet, neither the apparent dance inspired aesthetic nor the James Murphy influence is as all encompassing as “Reflektor” and “Afterlife” had originally insinuated. Instead, Murphy’s artistic sway is subtle and diversely distributed throughout the album’s various sonic backdrops-like the whimsical, playful keyboard riff on “Here Comes The Night Time,” the drum-machine snare hits on “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” or the twinkling synthesizers deep in the mix of album closer “Supersymmetry.” Perhaps more substantially, Murphy’s philosophy regarding song structure seems evident throughout the entirety of the affair. Many of the tracks begin with a core groove or rhythm that is consistently built up and expounded upon, and seeing as a large number of them have a runtime of over five minutes, there is sufficient room for sonic exploration.
The album’s various ebbs and flows indeed feels built around the conceptual notion of the double album. Both thematically and sonically, side 1 of the record seems concerned with the “real world” and grapples with the familiar themes of day-to-day monotony akin to those explored on The Suburbs
. Utilizing traditional, often guitar-driven melodies, it surely represents an aesthetic departure for the band yet feels considerably less inspired than its other half. Alternatively, the second side of the record is filled with spacey synths and the orchestral flourishes we are accustomed to from the band’s prior releases. It is indeed a more comfortable and familiar affair then the first half of the LP, often recalling the rich symphonic arrangements and weighty instrumentation of the band’s past discographical entries. The record plays out almost like a well-put-together mix-tape; not bound by any singular style, but nonetheless carefully calculated in its progressions. The production is expansive and diverse, yet altogether seamless. Similarly, neither half of Reflektor
is defined by a lone thematic concept. Instead, each side of the LP seems grounded in its own set of respective tones. The first half of the record is quick-witted and visceral, consistently driven by a sense of urgency and vitality that feels distinctly concerned with secular ideals. Alternately, side two feels reverent, spiritual, and ponderous in comparison.
While Arcade Fire’s position within the indie canon is indeed enviable, there is still the sense that there was never a way that Reflektor
could have exceeded its unfair expectations, at least in a traditional sense. Instead, the success of the album needs to be based on an entirely different set of criteria; does it successfully fulfill the complex vision intended by its creators" In that regard, the answer is clear. Reflektor
is unabashedly bloated, ambitious, and indulgent; an imperfect, yet meticulously calculated masterpiece.