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Review of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor

Last week, Arcade Fire dropped their fourth studio album, Reflektor. Anticipation mounted in the months leading up to the release as the Montreal-based band had teased fans with a guerilla marketing campaign, including covertly touring small venues across North America under the alias The Reflektors. Following the Album of the Year Grammy win for their 2010 album The Suburbs, Arcade Fire recruited LCD Soundystem retiree James Murphy as producer for their new 85-minute double LP.

Purely in terms of sound, the entirety of Reflektor is a reverberating, staticky war between vast armies of orchestras and synthesizers. The constant tension between digital and analog elements that exist in previous Arcade Fire albums extrapolates itself to something cosmic in scope. Somehow, the band creates haunting tones that are simultaneously hollow yet rich. The vocals and instruments seem to resound infinitely; Arcade Fire successfully liberates themselves from the claustrophobia of 2004’s Funeral and 2007’s Neon Bible. Or perhaps only now do those two albums seem claustrophobic by comparison? To call the album’s sound eclectic is an understatement; I can’t be certain about this, but I’m pretty sure upwards of 90% of all instruments ever invented can be heard at one point or another on this record. If you thought you’d never hear bongos or saxophone on an Arcade Fire album, think again.

The lyrics throughout the album are archetypically Arcade Fire. All of the songs either discuss the conflict between isolation and togetherness, painfully recall nostalgic visions of the past, or reflect on love and death. Win Butler still grumbles and wails and Regine Chassagne still reiterates the words in French, and the husband-and-wife duo still chants buzzwords and choruses. The difference is that when these lyrics pair up with this fresh, grandiose sound, the usual intimacy of the band’s lyrics become something existential. All but two songs on the album ask broad, unanswered questions of both personal and universal significance. These questions reverberate against the music, desperately seeking a response that never comes. Prepare for disappointment, fans expecting a departure from Arcade Fire’s lyrical formula.

While Arcade Fire remains in form for their fourth album, the added dimension of James Murphy is undoubtedly a double-edged sword that will divide the fan base. The LCD Soundsystem influence is not subtle by any means — perky, robotic tones cascade across chugging synthesized basslines. This doesn’t mean that there is nothing left of the old Arcade Fire; the twangy guitars and crying string sections accent Butler and Chassagne’s usual chanting of choruses. Elements independent of either band exist as well, specifically the prevalence of rara sound that originates in Chassagne’s birthplace, Haiti. One thing is certain: fans of both bands will assuredly experience 85 solid minutes of auditory ecstasy. Given the evolution of Arcade Fire throughout the years, a record as dancey and open as Reflektor is really the only logical next step.

Sometimes you’ll dance to this album. Sometimes you’ll stare off and have a miniature life crisis. Sometimes you’ll do both.

Reflektor is so ethereal and sprawling that you’ll swear it was recorded at a tropical dance club in a spaceship. And the spaceship is parked on a mountaintop. And the mountain is on another planet. And the planet is in another galaxy. And the galaxy is in another universe. And whatever is beyond a universe, and a few layers beyond that, that is where the album was recorded. And despite all the music’s distance and the isolation evoked by lyrics, Reflektor is something every human can relate to in one way or another.

Key Tracks

“Reflektor”
For listeners that are skeptic of the album, this first single is a good taste of what the album has to offer. Plus, it has David Bowie on it. Do you need any more reasons?

“Here Comes the Night Time”
Rara beats, synths, chaotic tempo shifts, and twangy guitars reminiscent of Dick Dale will bring dancers to their feet, then keep them on their toes, and then put them on their butts.

“Afterlife”
The second to last song on the double LP, this track is a respite for any hardcore fans that are struggling to enjoy the new album. It is the closest thing to “old” Arcade Fire.

Written by Kevin Glide

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