Arcade Fire, Heating Up
At nine thirty, in the smothering black heat of a Montreal summer night, indie rock royalty Arcade Fire took the stage at this year's Osheaga Music and Arts Festival. It was packed, and it was sizzling: swarms of gnat like insects flocked to the overhead floodlights and buzzed in the ears of the thousands of concertgoers beneath them. Despite the almost uncomfortable weather, all was OK. Some were seeing for the first time in person what they had only been able to hear up until that moment.
The Montreal-based band has been making a name for itself since the release of its self-titled EP in 2003. Since then, listeners have traveled through the various soundscapes portrayed by the band, which is fronted by husband and wife duo Win Butler and Régine Chassagne. Funeral was imaginative, exploratory, and inventive. Neon Bible was dark, bold, and dramatic. The Suburbs-released at the beginning of this past August-is something different.
Right off the bat, the title track is a smorgasbord of emotions. The beat is spry and almost in-your-face in contrast to the longing lyrics, "I would rather be wrong / Than live in the shadows of your song" and with the irreverent conjecture, "If the businessmen drink my blood." Frankly this sounds like a conflict between artistic heart and soul-it's almost as if the band recycled the ironic and happy-sounding background of Funeral's "Haiti" and matched it up with Butler's powerful vocals from Neon Bible. No sale here, but please forgive and forget-there are some great tracks to be had on this album.
Perhaps one of the most spirited songs from this album is "We Used to Wait." Now, here's something for Arcade Fire classicists. Beginning with fast-paced piano rhythm, a drum set enters and you realize that this is an emotional, fast-paced song about change. It's emotional, yet it's catchy and refreshing. Accompanying this track is a fantastic interactive short film by Chris Milk, which can be found at www.thewildernessdowntown.com.
Try it. Enter in the address of the home where you grew up, and watch a powerful video that uses Google Maps to create a unique music experience centered on you. See "We Used to Wait" the way Arcade Fire wants you to see it: through your own eyes, in your very own neighborhood (whether that be Neighborhood #1, #2, #3, or #4, for you Arcade Fire diehards).
Another great song, "Modern Man," is quirky with its reverberating electric guitar and drum pulse, making this a truly original departure from the band's earlier orchestral albums. Harmonizing his vocals amongst a sound similar to a summer surfer's anthem, Butler sings, "In my dream I was almost there / Then you pulled me aside and said you're going nowhere." Here is a track that has been thought out to make a smooth and well balanced statement about solitude and misunderstanding.
In "Rococo," the band builds on the contrast between soft shouts of the word "Rococo" and the rising, orchestral sounds in the background. The grandeur and dramatic eloquence of string instruments gives way to a thundering guitar that surprisingly is at home with the variety of sounds at work.
With The Suburbs, Arcade Fire has shown listeners that it still has the creative spirit that got them to where they are, yet music lovers should know that this album has some pop influences, and it takes a few listens to appreciate the work as a whole. Once you give it a try, you are sure to find some track that speaks to you. The variety of songs appears to be a survey of what the band has the potential to do.
Headlining in Montreal, Arcade Fire performed with vibrancy and an artistic vigor that few can boast at a live act. Simply put, the quality of their music wasn't lost when translating their songs on stage. Standing in the bobbing crowd, in a foreign country, there was a communal sense of wonder that made it worth standing and dancing in the heat.