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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

New Arcade Fire album marks a style change

Published: November 1, 2013
Section: Arts, Etc.

Coming off of their Grammy-award winning album “The Suburbs,” Arcade Fire released their latest effort this past Monday. A double album, “Reflektor” marks a bit of a style change for the band. Produced by former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, the overall genre of the album is not the standard indie rock as past Arcade Fire records have been. Instead, it uses more synthesizers and takes on an art rock and techno feel.

Using a vast array of viral marketing, such as hiring graffiti artists to tag the album’s logo in different cities and playing secret shows as “The Reflektors,” the Canadian alt-rock band built a tremendous amount of hype for a record announced less than two months prior. And it did not disappoint.

Starting with the title track that had been previously released as a single, “Reflektor” picks up where “The Suburbs” left off musically, but progresses into a more modern realm. Regine Chassagne’s French vocals in the verse really distinguish this track, as do her harmonies with lead Win Butler. Following are “We Exist” and “Flashbulb Eyes,” two songs that provide an unneeded change of pace this early in the album. “We Exist” relies heavily on a repetitive bass line and could be too catchy for its own good. “Flashbulb Eyes” is a short track that shows the diversity of a band like Arcade Fire, highlighting a xylophone or some other form of percussion during the chorus, but is a forgettable tune.

The highlight of the first disc is “Here Comes the Night Time,” a Vampire Weekend-esque song that shows how much Haitian rara music influenced this venture. It starts off with incredibly quick percussion, but suddenly slows down into a fantastic groove that is impossible to sit still through. Changes in the tempo, the guitar riff during the chorus, and the loud, spectacular Carnival finish should put this song up for some lofty recognition.

The next three tracks are completely different from each other musically and take time to build on the listener. “Normal Person” is a true rocker, with a bluesy verse that builds into a screeching chorus that reminds you of The Black Keys. “You Already Know” is just a simple, jangly guitar pop song that is an easy listen. “Joan of Arc” is another rock song, which has more of a pop chorus that is only memorable for Chassagne’s vocals in the chorus.

The second disc is, by leaps and bounds, better than the first, as it has a more defined sound instead of the disjointed styles of the first disc. Continuing an Arcade Fire tradition of using the same title multiple times on an album, “Here Comes the Night Time II” is a slow, measured, beautiful song that begins with a deep cello that builds into a synth organ. Butler provides very wispy, cold vocals for a track perfect for Halloween and crisp autumn nights. Much like “The Suburbs, continued” from their last album, it is a bare, stripped-down perspective of a previous song. Following are the two songs that play off on the lyrical theme of the album—a retelling of the 1959 French film “Black Orpheus.” “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” leads off with a very drawn out, purposed bass line backed by rhythmic percussion. The sort of sing-along chorus reminds of an Oasis song in some ways. “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” begins with a shout of a guitar riff that presents a very industrial groove and includes a verse that features the same guitar effect from Muse’s “Madness.” The chorus presents a drastic change in the tone of the song, becoming quiet with a harmonious, desperate vocals from Butler.

“Porno” is incredibly infectious. The verse gives a double scoop of synthesizers with finger snaps and a remarkably measured groove for a bass line. The chorus calls for comparisons to a Kate Bush tune with a great rhyme scheme that just flows out of the vocalist’s mouth. The lyrics display terrific emotion throughout the track—certainly one of the best on the album. A track that had been released with a video, but not as a single, before the album had been put out officially was “Afterlife,” which is just a vintage Arcade Fire song in its truest definition. It enters the mind with fun, almost parade-style percussion, but conflicts with the dark imagery of death and failed relationships backed by just drums and bass on the verse. It all builds up to a chorus featuring synths and guitars that create one of those classic soundscapes that Arcade Fire is known for, and echoing the refrain, “My love is gone. Where did it go?” This track will present a fantastic live performance in the future.

“Afterlife” syncs up to the beginning of “Supersymmetry,” a slower, synth driven-song that really closes out the album well. The harmonies of Butler and Chassagne, husband and wife, turn a nice song into a beautiful song. And it all builds into a fantastic finish with a string section overlaid on the synthesizers that creates smooth, relaxing tones.

“Reflektor” might be a bit too ambitious in places, certainly on the first disc. Tracks like “We Exist” and “Joan of Arc” feel a bit out of place musically on this album, and the marketing campaign might not have been needed after the huge success of “The Suburbs.” The overall lyrical theme of the record is not that accessible in the first few listens, much less transparent than that which was found on “The Suburbs.” The story is there to follow, but it will take some time thoroughly studying the lyrics book and intently listening to decipher the full meaning.

However, at its peaks, some of the best music can be found. The genre change proves how versatile Arcade Fire is. They can transform from a rock-based band to an electronic group in less than an album. The fundamental musical talent of the band is evident throughout the album, and they are really good at putting together an entire album. It is extremely tough to follow-up a Grammy award-winning album, but “Reflektor” comes awfully close.