Album Review – Arcade Fire: ‘Reflektor’

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If you didn’t know that Arcade Fire released an album last week, you’re the only one. Reflektor is the fourth release from the best indie rock band of our generation. From the 30-minute SNL special to mysterious Instagrams of iconic album art, to low-key performances under the moniker, The Reflektors–we saw this album coming, to say the least. Produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem legend, Arcade Fire has achieved what no one could have imagined back in 2004 when their debut effort Funeral surfaced: un-begrudged, highly deserved mainstream celebrity. Reflektor mixes the band’s signature dark arts with a dance-floor energy of mythic proportions. The gloom that anchored Funeral and Neon Bible, and The Suburbs to a lesser extent, has evolved into an unafraid, daring gleam. Meet: a shiny new Arcade Fire.

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Reflektor is different. You can definitely hear Murphy’s influence, “Reflektor” and “Here Comes the Night Time” are proof enough. Particularly that tinkling, playful piano riff in “Here Comes the Night Time” kills me, it’s so Murphy and it’s so good. Despite the obvious guidance, there’s no doubt that the evolution originates from within the band itself. Arcade Fire still explores those existentialist woes, their modern relationship crises, and their love affair with the freedom found in total weirdness. Now, the outcasts have entered the mainstream arena, and they’re confronting our expectations under every spotlight we shine on them. “I’ve never ever really ever met a normal person, like you – how do you do?” It’s not a pleasantry; it’s a dare. And the best thing is that it catches you off-guard because all the while, you’ve been dancing so hard that all your self-consciousness is lost in the head-banging induced by cathartic guitar thrashes anyway. Arcade Fire breaks you down, puts you back together, then hands you a mirror for some strobe-lit self-reflection.

Reflektor has range. This album meshes Arcade Fire’s normally separate endeavors of Haitian funk, punk-rock, dance-hall, electronica, and anthem. “Flashbulb Eyes” is a particularly interesting musical experiment in this vein, although it doesn’t make for a terribly compelling song. Also, take “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus),” the complement to “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice).” This song is a dark, disco dream. The sense of tragedy comes over even without the help of the Greek myth forming its narrative. That driving bass-line moving under Butler’s pleading falsetto–”wait until it’s over, wait until it’s through“–brings the funk and also tells of their inevitable fate. We can hear the slight dissonance in the musical and mythical disconnect that we know they won’t overcome. “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” definitely outstrips its counterpart, whose lackluster lyrics and uninteresting structure make it rather forgettable in itself. However, the two together make for Arcade Fire’s most ambitious and admirable foray into the literary realm.

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Reflektor gives us anthems. If you’re anything like me, “Wake Up” is the song of your late-teenage angst. So I was overjoyed when the beautifully defiant “Here Comes the Night Time” steps up: it’s pure, rebellious delight. “If you want to be righteous, if you want to be righteous, get in line — here comes the night time.” Arcade Fire’s anthems have always been founded in some deep longing, first with “Wake Up,” then “Keep the Car Running,” and most recently “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” Now, ”Afterlife” brings us perfectly into grander but more subtle territory, reflecting on the remains of love lost and the glimmers of hope that we hold close. “I’ve gotta know, can we work it out? Let’s scream and shout, until we work it out.” Once again, Arcade Fire is brilliant at making these gorgeous and tense (read: human) moments the heart of their particular edge of rock ‘n’ roll. 

Reflektor is unlike any other Arcade Fire record: musically and narratively, it has many branches and glances in multiple directions. The album title itself tells us that Reflektor is dealing in greater abstraction than Arcade Fire has ever done before. What could have felt sprawling generally feels tight, but not limited like The Suburbs or Funeral could be. Nevertheless, not every song lives up to this admittedly immense theme. The chorus of “Joan of Arc” falls flat, not resting on any one mode, melody, or motivation long enough for us to get it. And that cheesy opening of “You Already Know” strikes me as particularly reminiscent of B-52′s “Rock Lobster” when it was probably supposed to be more like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”–the rest of the song doesn’t forgive or warrant either.

However, the 11-minute, meditative “Supersymmetry” is the perfect closer for this ambitious album, bringing all the outlandishness back down to earth, like the sunrise after a night of dancing.

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