Best Albums of 2013: #1
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
1. Arcade Fire- Reflektor
“First they love you, then they kill you, then they love you again”
In 2011, Arcade Fire exploded. It all began when they earned a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in shocking fashion for their 2010 album The Suburbs. It seemed like the once indie darlings were now in the rock spotlight and with that spotlight came the expected lot of cynical criticisms as well as a new group of fans who’d never even heard of them. It’s one thing about gaining exposure that rubs hipsters the wrong way and boy did it ever when the Montreal band’s popularity increased. They were labeled as a group pretentious Canadian indie schmucks who were too big for their britches. Meanwhile, those fans who’ve “been around since Funeral” started to have a certain distaste towards the growing success of their beloved indie gods and suddenly it just seemed all so wrong. But this is where we are with their latest effort, Reflektor. These sentiments are all so present with the public that it’s hard to find an opinion on the album that isn’t so clouded with an underlying agenda. As far as the music goes, that’s all neither here nor there.
So, when Arcade Fire released their latest album Reflektor. People questioned the motives of the band as though they were posing as a Haitian group to create some kind of credibility that I can assure you they didn’t really need. These are the same criticisms I heard about Yeezus when people claimed that Kanye was overracting, just trying to make something ridiculous and call it profound. I’ll say this one time and one time only. That is the most insanely cynical type of criticism I hear so often and, to me, its ridiculous. Who are we to really question the motives of any artist and how they perform/write music? It’s just nitpicking for things that most likely aren’t there. Music is very much like food. You eat it and if you enjoy the taste, you eat some more. If not, you put it down and walk away. Do you question the cook’s motives behind why he made the food? Hell no. Then why do it with the musicians who compose the music? You either like it or you don’t. Of course we all have our reasons but that’s all based upon how much we can enjoy the sounds and lyrics.
Now, onto the album. The band’s lead vocalists/multi-instrumentalists/hubby & wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne had taken a trip to Chassagne’s family’s homeland of Haiti to help out with all of the disaster that the country has been dealing with over the past few years. On that trip, Butler found himself to be really influenced by the country’s culture and music. So much so that he incorporated it into this very album at various points. Win had also been inspired by Søren Kierkegaard’s essay “The Present Age” as well as the 1959 art film Black Orpheus. For most of 2011, the band was in Jamaica recording with Markus Dravs and began working with James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem in August 2012. The entire goal of the album seemed to be directed towards making more dance oriented and cultural music than they’ve ever done before.
The change of direction is clear on the album’s opener, the title track “Reflektor”. While the vocals/lyrics from both Win Butler and Regine Chassagne seem so distant and trapped away from one another, the grooves seem kind of inviting. It’s as if I’m being compelled to dance. There’s some Bowie-esque guitar work and the song seems to escape into a different realm around the 4 minute mark. There is a serious storm coming from this song with all of it’s sound. The hand percussion seems to be more prominent during the latter half of the song and it’s just one big journey about two lovers living in what they refer to as the “reflective age” where it seems as though physical connection has been replaced with these lifeless technological forms of communication. There are some vocals provided by David Bowie, which are scattered throughout the track. The last two minutes of the song, it goes completely dance oriented and I have yet listen to this song without to grooving to the outro.
Throughout the first disc of the album, you get the themes of isolation and oppression. It seems as though the first disc is dedicated to the outcasts of the world. This begins with “We Exist”. The song seems to be directed towards homosexuals and their struggle for acceptance in the world, particularly from the religious figures of the world. The bassline resembles that of “Billie Jean” or “Like a Virgin” and part of me thinks that was done with intention in accordance with the song’s theme. The instrumentation is very intense, it gives the song a kind of rebellious mood to it considered that it’s Win supporting the fight for homosexual equality. It’s one big fuck you to the powers that be and those who cast out those who are different. “Flashbulb Eyes” is another song with that outcast mentality where Butler is talking about the old theory that when a camera takes a picture of you, it takes your soul. Win seems to be ready and willing for that to happen. He’s got nothing to hide.
“Here Comes the Night Time” starts off with this intense punk riff and then slows down into the realm of some Caribbean dance song. Butler uses this track to talk about outlandish religious figures like he did on previous albums Neon Bible and the Suburbs as well as his experience with Port-au-Prince. James Murphy’s presence is felt on this track with some electronic grooves brimming throughout. “Normal Person” is a punk rock piece of intense fury and anger. From the very beginning it was one of my favorite tracks on the album. Butler’s songwriting is especially great on this track. He asks “Is anyone as strange as normal person? Is anyone as cruel as a normal person?” and it just seems very much like a continuation of “We Exist” but more angrier and urgent. It’s one of the more traditional rock song’s that Arcade Fire has ever written. “You Already Know” is a song that seems to harp on the themes of conformity but in the aspect of love and life. The person Butler seems to be channeling on this track can’t really get it right and just enjoy the little things. “Joan of Arc” seems to be a track that is directed towards the bands critics as well as their fanbase. They deny the title of being the infamous Joan of Arc but try to draw comparisons between how the public treats them and how Joan of Arc was treated in her time. “First they love you/Then they kill you/Then they love you again/And then they love you” sings Régine Chassagne and it seems like a pretty good comparison when it comes to those lyrics.
The second disc seems to take an entirely different direction. The songs are based around the greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as well as fate. The darkness is on it’s way, that much is clear on the first track of disc two, “Here Comes the Night Time II”. “Awful Sound(Oh, Eurydice)” has this “Dark Side of the Moon” vibe going for it. It starts out very slow with Butler’s vocals as he seems to be portraying Orpheus who is yearning for Eurydice(played by Chassagne), similar to the storyline of Black Orpheus. While the first half of the song seems to be lost in a dreamworld, the second half has this giant wave of sound as if some great big musical tornado has swept the listener off their feet and taken them into space. “It’s Never Over(Hey Orpheus)” is probably my favorite track on the second disc. It starts out as a disco track and then kicks into this indie rocker with heavy guitar work and this groove that makes my shoulders perk up. Lyrically, the song makes references to Orpheus’ descent to the underworld in search for the Eurydice. Butler and Chassagne paint this picture of Euryidice and Orpheus that I feel as though I can vividly see them trying to escape from the underworld. The songs drops its heavy groove and the two’s vocals become more overlapped as the song reaches its climax. There are a lot of heartbreaking lines on this track. In particular, the outro with Chassagne and Butler doing a duet, only to finish with these lines:
We stood beside
A frozen sea
I saw you out
In front of me
A hollow moon
Oh Orpheus, Eurydice
It’s over too soon
I think the reason why I enjoy this song so much is not neccessarily the Orpheus storyline but the way that the band has pulled it off. It’s essentially a work of art.
“Porno” is a song that is unapologetically disco. From it’s nostalgic synth grooves to it’s prominent strings, it’s a little over the top and kind of rigid. Lyrically, it’s about two lovers living in what they have referred to as “the reflective age” where genuine connection in a relationship takes the back seat to sexual desires. It’s a track that I really enjoy because of how dedicated it is towards disconnect, from it’s lyrics to the dated instrumentation. “Afterlife” seems to be a return to the Orpheus myth without making direct references. For the most part it’s a song about, well, the afterlife. Win seems to be seeking answers behind the afterlife, he asks “When love is gone, where does it go?” Win is searching for things he can’t find and it’s a very heartbreaking truth bearer. The band makes use of the Caribbean-ey hand percussion as well as disco synths and dreamy guitar playing. “Supersymmetry” seems to be a continuation of the last track but instead with Win more accepting loss and fate for what it is. The song features mainly some keyboard work and some strings thrown in occasionally.
Reflektor is a 75 minute odyssey by a band who hasn’t been resting on the success of their first three albums. Arcade Fire’s latest is something that is neck and neck with the bands first three albums. This is why the band has been so successful.They are willing to do things that could turn some heads, for better or worse. That’s what rock music desperately needs. But this band, unlike their indie contemporaries, have constantly tried to open themselves up to new things and haven’t taken their success to diminish their music. How many bands can you say from this era that’s really done that and are still around? Not many, if any. In many ways, Reflektor is so out in left field that it probably will be recognized as Arcade Fire’s Achtung Baby and I mean that in the most complimentary way. Reflektor is an album that will really steal your heart over time if you let it.
Listen to “Reflektor” by Arcade Fire:
BEST ALBUMS OF 2013