Album Review: Arcade Fire, “Reflektor”

Ever since winning the “Album of the Year” at the 2011 Grammys for The Suburbs, Arcade Fire has almost achieved a newfound success. At first, it may seem like Arcade Fire is still that simple indie band that delivered us one of the best albums of our generation with Funeral, but after watching their CBS special Here Comes the Night Time (which featured celebrity cameos ranging from Michael Cera to Bono) that aired after their SNL performance, it becomes clear this is the new Arcade Fire.

Photo: Arcade Fire

Whereas many musicians tend to stop taking risks and just cater to their massive fanbase after becoming largely successful, Arcade Fire decides to take even more risks. And it certainly shows in their fourth effort, ReflektorCollaborating with LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, Arcade Fire makes what is undeniably their most ambitious and dance-y album yet.

The scope of this album from a production standpoint is absolutely massive.

The title song starts with an almost David Bowie dance rock groove. In fact, David Bowie actually provides additional vocals on this track. However, the track quickly descends into a seamless sound involving electric guitars, synths, and eventually a saxophone, after which we are treated to a neat and almost calming piano riff. It is just this kind of ambition in instrumentation that is found throughout most of this album.

‘Here Comes the Night Time” is another dance ballad and is definitely a monster track from the album. So much so, that the second part of this album starts with the second part of this song, simply titled “Here Comes the Night Time II.” In part 1, Win Butler sounds inviting and ecstatic. However, in part 2, Butler is no longer excited, but afraid and hurt.  While the album certainly features a fair share of dance tracks, it also delves into styles emulating different genres.  “Normal Person” questions and mocks the very idea of being “normal” on what seems to be a pretty standard rock sound. It tends to be ironic, perhaps just how the band wanted it, but the song is a very exhilarating 4-minute ride.

There are tracks that also channel the band’s inner Pink Floyd and Beatles, such as “Awful Sound” and “Joan of Arc.” It may come to the point where the songs feel more like Beatles/ Pink Floyd songs rather than Arcade Fire songs, which does hurt the originality of those songs, but not to the point where the musicality and top notch songwriting is forgotten. The eerie album closer “Supersymmetry” sounds the most different from the rest of the album, emulating an electronic ambient sound in an album otherwise dedicated to the past sounds of the Talking Heads and David Bowie. When the track ends at about half of its run time, the second half sounds like a distorted rewind of the album, literally like a reflection of the album.

Tina Fey with Arcade Fire on SNL. Credit: SNL & NBC.

While a lot of the lyrics choices in this album are influenced from musicians like Bowie, Byrne, Cash, etc., they effectively tell a story on each track. Different ideas of life are presented throughout the album, but the biggest theme to take away from the album is identity. “Reflektor” and “Porno” question the loss of it, while “Here Comes the Night Time” embraces it. Does the theme of identity justify the entire 70-minute runtime? Perhaps not, but it doesn’t need to when the album is already full of so many surprises and sounds.

In what has surely been a universally acclaimed and successful career, Arcade Fire looks to take advantage of their success by using it to make even more ambitious and cinematic music. Through their presentation, their albums never come off as just a next project, but as an event that needs to be witnessed. Reflektor serves as Arcade Fire’s hard work reflecting right back at them and to us. And through the paper machete heads, costumes, lights, and Zach Galifianakis, Arcade Fire is still that same band of dedication and consistency.

 

B+

 Best Tracks: “Here Comes the Night Time”, “Supersymmetry”, “Reflektor”, “Normal Person”, “Afterlife”, and “Porno”

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