Release Date: Oct 29, 2013
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
“Today abstraction is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror, the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being, or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality.”– Jean Baudrillard, 1981 It’s just a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection. But I see you on the other side…– Arcade Fire, 2013 A splintering moon hangs suspended in a dark place, shards of lights dancing obliquely across unseen architecture.
One of Reflektor's greatest strengths, I feel, may become of one it's greatest criticisms. Many will say that Reflektor is not as grand or sprawling as the rest of Arcade Fire's discography – that it lacks a certain scope or vision prevalent on The Suburbs or The Funeral. I would argue that this is not the case – in fact, I would argue the contrary; Reflektor is the most fully realised album the band have released, and it is precisely because they have evolved and moved on as a group.The band's previous three releases make up a trilogy of sorts, connected thematically.
It's likely that the first time you heard the Arcade Fire's monstrously anticipated fourth album Reflektor, you were—to borrow a phrase that Win Butler spits out like a bite of bad food during the record's disco-noir title track—"staring at a screen. " This past Thursday, the band posted to Youtube an 85-minute video which cued up the entirety of the double-album to visuals from Marcel Camus' kaleidoscopic 1959 film Black Orpheus. If something that happens on the internet can be considered An Event, then this certainly was one; in the same moment I saw the band's official tweet announcing it, two people simultaneously instant-messaged me the link.
Arcade Fire's fourth album, Reflektor, diverges dramatically from rock conventions and resists the type of geographically specific and coherent narratives that made 2010's Grammy-winning The Suburbs so accessible. Instead, the band has crafted an album that, despite its various musical influences and cultural reference points (Greek mythology, the Bible, and French history, among others), coheres into a sustained meditation on the fragility of human connection. Frontman Win Butler has spoken about his obsession with Kierkegaard's 1846 essay “The Present Age,” which posits a distinction between “reflective” and “passionate” ages, the former being moments when society “flies into enthusiasm for a moment only to decline back into indolence.
Though the motif of this complex new Arcade Fire record is seemingly centred upon duality (and dancing), Reflektor is far more multilayered, elusive and ambitious than anything they or their contemporaries have laid to tape previously because it dares to have some serious fun. While some have mentioned transformative records by David Bowie, Talking Heads and U2 in discussing Reflektor, a key template for Arcade Fire has always been the Clash's triple-record, Sandinista! Virtually every single release by the Montreal band thus far has contained some sonic allusion to Sandinista!'s daring, polarizing effort to offer a Polaroid snapshot (or Instagram) of everything happening in culture at the time, which meant stepping way out of their British rock band comfort zone and reflecting their travels as explorers. The kicker was that the Clash made the ultimate party record — a brilliant, totally self-aware, genre-eschewing mixtape that rivals The White Album in its dedication to "Yeah, this all fits together" even when it didn't.
“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry,” Ernest Hemingway wrote 84 years ago in A Farewell to Arms.
"If this is heaven/I need something more," Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, Arcade Fire's founding singers, declare in close, almost whispered harmony as the opening title song of their band's extraordinary new album goes into high gear. "Reflektor" is seven and a half busy minutes of art and party. Over a strident-disco hybrid of the Rolling Stones' "Miss You" and Yoko Ono's "Walking on Thin Ice," Arcade Fire and their new co-producer, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, throw brittle-fuzz guitar licks, grunting bass, mock-grand piano and ballooning synth chords across deep reverb like frantic instrumental argument.
Arcade Fire’s fourth full-length, recorded in New York, Montreal and Jamaica, with LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy and Eno alumnus Marcus Dravs, is a two-disc affair, though that billing is somewhat generous, given a total running time of 75 minutes. Advance single Reflektor – Arcade Fire’s Let’s Dance, by way of Sound & Vision – points the way: these are meaty, beaty songs, many of them driven by lurching, low-slung bass and disco drums with a hint of Stones voodoo about them. The Jamaican influence is apparent, too, in the dubby bass and ping-pong guitars of Flashbulb Eyes, and the carnival fanfare in Here Comes The Night Time.
With David Bowie's cameo on the title track, it seems like Arcade Fire are thumbing their noses at critics who might accuse them of ripping him off. But while it has plenty of Bowie references, Reflektor actually has much more in common (both structurally and sonically) with the disco/reggae/punk of the Clash's 1979 masterpiece double album, London Calling. Both epics find formerly underground bands struggling to come to terms with mainstream acceptance, and following their impulses to make more danceable music that pulls from a wider set of influences than they were previously known for.
Arcade Fire have always been obsessed with light. The first song Régine Chassagne and Win Butler ever wrote together, back in 2002 before they were married, was called ‘Headlights Look Like Diamonds’. The band they’re in is named after a story Win was told about an arcade being set alight in Exeter, Canada. On debut album ‘Funeral’ is the song ‘Une Année Sans Lumière’, which translates as ‘A Year Without Light’.
Review Summary: Haha, haha. Arcade Fire, ladies and gentlemen!I’m just gonna be straight up and admit that I really don’t remember much about The Suburbs, and I’m going to make an educated guess and assume that most non-diehards probably don’t either. After becoming the biggest indie band since…well pretty much ever, Arcade Fire just sort of gave us an Arcade Fire album.
This wasn’t supposed to be the script for Arcade Fire. Indie success stories might score an unlikely hit single or win critical love for one of their albums. But winning Grammy Album of the Year, as they did with 2010’s The Suburbs, just doesn’t happen to bands like them. Then again, most don’t usually release such a complete, compelling artistic statement as The Suburbs with just their third LP, so there’s not a lot of precedent there either.
During the late 1950s and 60s there was a vogue for so-called "death discs", singles in which someone's baby had literally gone for good. In the Shangri-Las' Leader of the Pack, a fatal car crash resolved the action. The term might or might not have inspired Public Image Ltd's 1979 cut Death Disco (about John Lydon's mother's demise from cancer), and in turn, a club night still running in west London, once the preserve of former Creation boss Alan McGee.
Arcade Fire’s past, present and future isn’t exactly riddled with mystery. They formed a band out in Montréal, barely any of them knowing how to play the drums. Then they got bigger, better, bigger again. They made second homes in Haiti and then New York. Their records became more conceptual ….
Here’s something that David Edwards wrote for DiS back in May this year: Dave was writing about a Lana Del Rey concert, so it’s odd that it was these complaints of his that I remembered as I emerged, blinking into the light, from a darkened London bar after listening to Arcade Fire’s Reflektor for the first time. But here’s what happens on ‘Supersymmetry’, the album’s 11-minute closing track: Win and Régine duet on the most gorgeously hooky lines, their voices side-by-side, occasionally bumping and crossing, over an electric piano and broken up drums. The strings, held back for much of the album, slowly swell and tease and dance around glittery synths; think Psychocandy if it had been a Peter Gabriel record.
Arcade Fire have been really good for a really long time. Three LPs might not seem like much on paper, but it’s been a thrilling, nail-biting ride in real-time: The holy trinity of Funeral, Neon Bible and The Suburbs (each released three years apart, arriving with the geeky art-rock grandiosity of a new Star Wars film) ranks among the most impressive streaks of recorded rock music in the past couple decades. With a band of this stature, there’s always a bit of dread involved: “When are they gonna fuck it up?” And as early buzz generated around Reflektor, the Montreal band’s fourth album, the moment of reckoning seemed nigh: A double-album co-produced by DFA whiz James Murphy, boasting Haitian rhythms, backed by a hallucinogenic ad campaign? Only two outcomes seemed possible: Either Win Butler and company were preparing for a mind-altering masterpiece or a big-ass shark-jump.
Grammy success seems to have pushed Arcade Fire to new levels. Reflektor, their first album since mega smash The Suburbs, manages to be both more and less mainstream simply by being a double album. The band's promotional campaign, in which they've renamed themselves "The Reflektors," has generally sold Reflektor as a dance album, and while that's true to an extent, there's a little more going on.
Despite all the boastful diatribe that Kanye West regularly speaks, he makes a good point in describing how rap stars are the new rock n’ roll. The cultural dominance of rap music transcends any social signifiers, and no other genre can amass widespread popularity whilst retaining critical acceptance. Whereas rap music steadfastly rises, rock n’ roll continues to suffer an identity crisis that stems from a lack of trend recognition.
After stunning the mainstream pop machine into a state of huffy, new school e-disbelief by beating out Eminem, Lady Antebellum, Lady Gaga, and Katy Perry for the 2011 Album of the year Grammy, Arcade Fire seemed poised for a U2-style international coup, but the Suburbs, despite its stadium-ready sonic grandiosity, was far too homespun and idiosyncratic to infect the masses in the same way as the Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby. Reflektor, the Montreal collective's much anticipated fourth long-player and first double-album, moves the group even further from pop culture sanctification with a seismic yet impenetrable 13-track set (at 75 minutes it’s one minute over standard single disc capacity) that guts the building but leaves the roof intact. Going big was never going to be a problem, especially for a band so well-versed in the art of anthem husbandry, and they're still capable of shaking the rafters, as evidenced by the cool and circuitous, Roxy Music-forged, David Bowie-assisted title cut, the lush, Regine Chassagne-led “It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus),” and the impossibly dense and meaty “We Exist,” but what ultimately keeps Reflektor from sticking the landing is bloat.
Back in the spring, when Get Lucky by Daft Punk was strutting its way onto every single radio station on the globe, the duo’s fans were prepping for themselves for what they thought was surely set to be a classic album. The presentiment was understandable, given the quality of the song. Yet when Random Access Memories came out, amid a whirlwind of hype and elaborate promotional campaigns, the ensuing disappointment was crushing.
If we can agree on one thing about Arcade Fire's latest, the record's rollout has been nothing short of bizarre, between formalwear-required preview performances, numerous teaser snippets, and the gonzo, celebrity-packed television special. Now, we can finally peel back the mirrorball-like wrapping and find out if Reflektor lives up to its mystique. .
Montreal’s Arcade Fire is now Hollywood’s Arcade Fire, considering the projects they’ve embarked on since their third album. Their endeavors have included contributing a song to the soundtrack of The Hunger Games and even contributing the Panem National Anthem (which repeats as a frequent and vital leitmotif) to that film’s score. Next on their agenda is the score to Spike Jonze’s romantic science fiction film Her (due in theatres in time for the 2013 Christmas Season).
As befits an album on which LCD Soundsystem's James Murphy was called in to give Arcade Fire a sonic overhaul, Reflektor's 75 minutes are filled with strange sounds. There are instruments caked so thickly in reverb and distortion that it becomes hard to tell what they are. The second of its two CDs opens, unmistakably but perplexingly, with the noise of the XDR toneburst that used to appear at the start of pre-recorded cassettes in the 1980s.
Arcade Fire has certainly found itself on a strange perch with its new album, "Reflektor." The last time the Montreal-based group made a record, "The Suburbs," it did so as an acclaimed indie band — not a Grammy album of the year-winning act on the verge of becoming a household name. "Reflektor" accepts the challenge that comes with millions of ears, eyes and lenses aimed at it but does so by taking listeners on a journey unlike any they've taken before. Its most confident and experimental yet, "Reflektor" features songs steeped in punk, dance rock, disco, reggae and noise, and themes ranging from love in the Digital Age to faith amid profound tragedy.
opinion byPETER TABAKIS Though I just have anecdotal evidence to support the claim, I suspect more than a few Arcade Fire fans have been wringing their hands over Reflektor in the run-up to its release. Arcade Fire’s fourth LP has been the cause of feverish anticipation from the start – a double album by a beloved band, mostly produced by James Murphy, whose own musical output has long reached deified status. Reflektor’s first single and title track further stoked expectations.
Is it all currently poles apart following The Suburbs for Arcade Fire? Was performing and then winning “Album of the Year” at the Grammys altering? Let’s look at the facts: a ridiculously astounding tour schedule, some time apart, some time travelling. Fresh inspirations arise through global sounds and somehow, a new recording space is available. And unlike a re-telling of Win Butler’s youth growing up (in stellar fashion mind you) Reflektor is the fruits of labor Arcade Fire was always capable of.
“Do you like rock and roll music?/Cause I don’t know if I do”. It’s a seemingly improvised aside, delivered by Win Butler in the mode of dive bar house act, as he casually riffs over the sound of the band slowly whirring into life. But this off-the-cuff, tuneless hum cuts deep. Via tacky Canadian salsa bars, cryptic graffiti scrawls, surrealist half hour takeovers of primetime American television, high-quality interactive concept videos, and the vociferously consumed avalanche of tidbits causing a continual crescendo of online anticipation, Arcade Fire have proved themselves to be toying tricksters, operating on the highest echelon of alternative celebrity.
The rollout for Arcade Fire’s fourth studio album, “Reflektor,” released on Tuesday, has been all about fun. On television and YouTube, the band introduced new songs wearing glittery mock-1970s costumes, sandwiched between comedy bits. Billed as the Reflektors, Arcade Fire has been staging pop-up shows that come on as dance parties, with the band performing onstage between disc jockey sets, while mirror balls gleam overhead.
What does a band like Arcade Fire see when it looks in the mirror? Hitting the peak of your powers, as they did on the self-consciously important and wildly, widely acclaimed The Suburbs, can be a disorientating, distorting experience. The sound of Reflektor is that of a band trying to push at the image of what it can be, through the mirror to the other side. A band who, having brought long-running pet themes (the dark underbelly of the suburbs, lost childhood innocence, the breakdown of civilisation in a war-torn dystopian future) to their fullest expression, aren't sure what else they can do, but are determined to find out.
One criticism often levelled against Montreal’s Arcade Fire is that their music isn’t very, well, musical. Specifically, their detractors focus their criticism of the Canadians on what they claim are the band’s tritely mechanical rhythms and recycled perma-crescendo structuring. The favoured pejorative is often ‘stiff’, and you’d have to say they have a point.
Can a suffocating pre-release hype campaign negatively impact one’s enjoyment of an album? The correct answer should be of course not; promotional hype existed long before the days of continuous blog updates, and the music will remain long after the PR folks have cashed their checks. But I’ll be damned if Arcade Fire’s recent promo blitz doesn’t seriously challenge that notion. I realize that there are probably parts of the country where the Grammy winning band are the farthest thing from a known entity, and if they had decided on a whim to play some tiny shows in Little Rock, Arkansas or Bozeman, Montana, that would be plenty welcome.
Arcade Fire Reflektor (Merge) Promoted with a graffiti campaign, TV special, costumed secret shows, and enough advertising to blanket the Web, Arcade Fire sold the world on a defining album for our hyper-connected times, a pop-culture touchstone that draws a line in the sand between us and them. To quote Win Butler on the title track, "It was just a reflector." The Montreal sextet's double-disc fourth album sprawls an indulgent 85-minute opus that expands the band's scope in all directions at once. With co-producer James Murphy doing for New York what Brian Eno took from Berlin, Reflektor expands on the darker grooves of 2011's Album of the Year, The Suburbs, except with Caribbean rhythms.
The early buzz on Arcade Fire’s new album, courtesy of James Murphy, the former LCD Soundsystem mastermind who is one of its producers, was that it was “really [expletive] epic.” Of course it is. Epic is the whole point of this band whose music carries an air of importance. It makes indie rock in ALL CAPS, the soaring soundtrack for the apocalypse.