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Review: Arcade Fire, 'Reflektor'

Brent Faulkner Brent Faulkner
November 4th, 2013 9:15pm EST
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Arcade Fire Reflektor

The Canadian alt-rock band create an alluring, ambitious set with Reflektor: I’ll be the first to express that my mouth was agape when alt-band Arcade Fire pulled off the unthinkable at the 2011 Grammys – winning the coveted album of the year for The SuburbsSure, there wasn’t any real reason to believe that the always ‘controversial’ hip-hop would be awarded the grand prize given its past failures (save for OutKast’s genre-bending  Speakerboxxx/The Love Below or Lauryn Hill’s genius The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill), but didn’t most of us still think Eminem had a chance with Recovery?  Arcade Fire definitely rewrote the script and gained greater exposure along the way.  What does one do after you’ve reached the top critically (and arguably commercially since The Suburbs debuted at number one)? Change-it-up a lil bit, or at least that’s how new double album Reflektor sounds from my perspective.  Did you ever think you’d be able to dance to Arcade Fire, really?

Reflektor, Vol. 1

What’s positive and interesting about Reflektor is that both discs are consistent and alluring.  On disc one (volume one), “Reflektor” initiates things shockingly given its percussive, danceable groove.  Thankfully, this cut does danceability conservatively and tastefully, eschewing today’s EDM bass drops and pointed synths in favor of something that sounds both neo-disco and Arcade Fire-like simultaneously.  The songwriting is accessible, well perhaps save for Régine Chassagne’s pre-chorus French, LOL (“Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore / entre le royaume des vivants es des morts”). The chorus is incredibly catchy and simple though: “I thought I found a way to enter / it’s just a reflector…” AF don’t miss a ‘step’ on “We Exist” either, another shocking head-nodder filled with energy.  The intensity is loftiest on the bridge following the second chorus: “Let ‘em stare! Let ‘em stare! / if that’s all they an do! But I’d lose my heart / if I turn away from you”.  Apparently, Win Butler and company don’t care: “…tell ‘em it’s fine / stare if you like / just let us through…” I’m on board!

Flashbulb Eyes” continues to surprise, this time with reggae elements – yikes! It probably should work but yet, Arcade Fire’s tremendous musicianship continues to shine on this brief number.  Lyrically, simplicity continues to be the trend, this time both on the sole verse and the chorus.  “Here Comes the Night Time” proves a more formidable track, animated from the onset.  Once it settles in, the groove is sick, period.  “Here Comes the Night Time” has more ‘oomph’ lyrically than previous cuts, playing on double meanings. Verse two definitely seems to have some skepticism of religious practices, which seems a message throughout: “And the missionaries / they tell us we will be left behind / been left behind / a thousand times, a thousand times…”  Read into the title, and you have to question if the “the night time” refers to the fiery pit or church itself…DUN DUN DUN!  I’d say yes: “Now the preachers they talk up on the satellite / if you’re looking for Hell, just try looking inside”

On “Normal”, Arcade Fire seems to suggests anyone who considers themselves normal is truly ‘strange’ (“Is anything as strange as a normal person? / Is anyone as cruel as a normal person”).  Despite the philosophical tone, there is nothing strange about this cut, only alt-rock goodness.  ”You Already Know” proceeds, anchored by a prevalent bass line and the band’s familiar harmonic scheme.  Few would jump to characterized the chorus as profound: “You already know, already know”.  Still, there are some worthwhile lyrical moments than extend beyond the phrase.  Closing cut “Joan of Arc” is unique, strange, confusing, and brilliant simultaneously. Something of a tribute if an indirect one,  “Joan of Arc” seems to be more about the ‘spirit’ or the martyr as opposed to the real person.  “They’re the one that spit on you / cause they got no heart,”  Butler sings, “I’m the one that will follow you / You’re my Joan of Arc.”  Read into it deeper and you could draw multiple interpretations.  Ultimately, the best way to describe the cut is as metaphorical.

Reflektor, Vol. 2

After the first volume of Reflektor closed interestingly, the second volume also opens that way.  A reprise, “Here Comes the Night Time II” serves as the introduction ultimately.  “Here Comes the Night Time II” is a stark contrast to the original, which seems like the intent.  It precedes two linked juggernauts in “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”, which both use the mythological tales of Eurydice and Orpheus as their basis.  Ambitious, definitely, but it works (‘course it helps to be knowledgeable of the mythological background).

A tragic story given Eurydice’s death and Orpheus’ infatuation with his late lover,  “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” finds Butler singing “I know you can see / things that we can’t see / but when I say I love you / your silence covers me…” On companion cut “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”, Régine and Win take on a nice back and forth singing as Orpheus and Eurydice respectively (“Hey Eurydice! Can you see me? / I will sing your name / Till you’re sick of me / just wait till it’s over…”). If nothing else, the band’s creativity has to be appreciated.  “Hey Orpheus” particularly shows vintage, oomph-laden Arcade Fire at their best.

Porno” definitely had my attention given the title.  The song itself is no disappointment with it’s dark, sort creepy vibe.  The ultimate take away seems to be that young guys are selfish when it comes to sexual desires and how they expect their girlfriends to fulfill their selfishness. “Yeah, something’s wrong / little boys with their porno / and boys they learn / some selfish sh*t / until the girl / won’t put up with it…” Well said.  That said, what does that have to do with the previous two cuts?  Nada.  But “Afterlife” does.

“Afterlife” once more relies on Orpheus and Eurydice as its inspiration.  If the lyrics don’t pain the picture clearly enough, the video clip with the lyric video issue by the band makes it clear; it uses scenes from Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus), a Brazilian film from 1959 based on the mythological story. At first, the “afterlife” is quite devastating to Orpheus (“Afterlife, oh my God, what an awful world / after all the breath and the dirt and the fires are burnt”) though by the bridge “…it’s just an afterlife…” O…K… Want something even more off-putting, the closing 11-minute minimalist “Supersymmetry”.  “I know I’m living in my mind / it’s not the same as being alive.”  So what is supersymmetry you ask? According to dictionary.com, “a hypothetical symmetry among groups of particles containing fermions and bosons, especially in theories of gravity that unify electromagnetism…” Um yeah, makes perfect sense to me. *eye rolls* *sarcasm*

So, what does one make of Reflektor?  To call it brilliant without reservations would definitely be an overstatement as it is a lot to digest.  That said, to deny its mighty aspirations and cleverness would be a travesty.  What a conundrum, right? Nah, this is easily one of the year’s brighter spots, even if one doesn’t completely understand everything that the Canadian band is going for… pretty big jump from Joan of Arc to mythological tales then porno leading to a  closer toying with a random scientific hypothesis. That said, that’s Reflektor in the nut-shell.  Just when you “…thought [you]… found a way to enter / it’s just a reflector…”

Favorites:

“Reflektor”; “We Exist”; “Here Comes the Night Time”; “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”; “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” 

Verdict: ✰✰✰✰

Arcade Fire | Reflektor | Merge | US Release Date: October 29, 2013

Photo Credits: Merge


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