Sunday 3 November 2013

Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Arcade Fire have always struck me as one of those bands that I should like, rather than actually do like.  Singles aside (most notably from 2010’s ‘The Suburbs’), I’ve never given their music the time of day it apparently deserves.  Yet lead single Reflektor ushered in a new disco influenced sound for the band that seemed lighter, more accessible (musically at least).  Second track We Exist, meanwhile, features a bass line seemingly taken from Madonna’s Like A Virgin.  The dapples of electronics were enough to lure me in.

The change in sound was a very conscious decision by the band: “Do you like rock’n’roll music? Because I don’t know I do” questions frontman Win Butler on Normal Person.  His travels to Haiti with wife and fellow vocalist Régine Chassagne have certainly informed the sound, particularly Haitian rara music and carnival rhythms that permeate thoughout (although the reggae style of Flashbulb Eyes is a pertinent example).  This isn’t a dance record, however; instead the band have moulded their pre-existing rock sound around pulsating beats and electronic injections.  Joan Of Arc, for example, begins with a thrashing punk opening before settling into a shuffling groove of bubbling bass lines and a hook-laden chorus.

‘Reflektor’ is very much an album of two halves.  Too long for a single disc, this is a double album of two ‘volumes’.  The first disc is more guitar focused, with heavy distortion, and closer to their previous material – You Already Know for example (weirdly introduced by Jonathan Ross from a performance in 2007) feels like it’s taken straight from ‘The Suburbs’.  The second disc is more subdued and electronic – for some these tracks are more interesting, for others they’re too far removed from the Arcade Fire norm: the blending and intertwining of real and electronic instruments on Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice); the belching, menacing sounds of It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus); the dusky 80s synths of Porno; the heavily distorted saxophone lines of Afterlife and its swirling electronics.  It’s with Here Comes The Night Time and its second disc reprise that the differing sounds are placed in sharp relief: the first a slow-burning build of guitars and carnival rhythms towards an infuriating anti-climax, the second a more atmospheric nocturne to herald in the second disc.

‘Reflektor’ is an incredibly dense album, both musically and lyrically, filled with tiny details for listeners to pore over, although most will likely simply brush them aside.  Yet with so many tracks outstaying their welcome, what could have become a concise pop album is dragged out into a lengthy artistic vision with splashes of brilliance.

The concept behind the album goes someway to explaining the band’s musical decisions behind both that artistic vision and those splashes of brilliance.  Influenced by philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s notion of the ‘present age’ and reflection, and the French/Italian/Brazilian film Black Orpheus from 1959 (which reimagines the Orpheus and Eurydice myth in a Brazilian favela), the key themes here are death, ghosts and the afterlife – not surprising for a band who’s debut album was entitled ‘Funeral’. Tracks like We Exist and Flashbulb Eyes, however, seem fixated on the hollowness of celebrity (“what if the camera really do take your soul?”). It’s as if ‘Reflektor’ marks the death of the band as we know it and their egotistical ascendance to a higher plane – a notion listeners will either accept as another metaphorical layer to the album, or proof that the band have ascended too far up their own arses.  This is an album that's as baffling as it is accessible to newcomers.

It’s this dichotomy that’s summed up by closing track Supersymmetry. What begins as the pinnacle of the band’s electronic influences, with its beautifully swirling and hypnotic celestial synths, eventually disappears into six minutes of a tape rewinding and ghostly sound effects. For some this represents the afterlife the lyrical content has been hinting at all along, a world beyond our comprehension; for others it is the dying breath of a band disappearing into obscurity.


Gizzle's Choice:
* Porno
* Afterlife
* Supersymmetry

Listen: 'Reflektor' is available now.