New Arcade Fire album demonstrates experiment with different sound

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New Arcade Fire album demonstrates experiment with different sound

Graphic by Cormac O'Brien

Kali Croke, co-a&e editor

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Montreal-based band Arcade Fire had a lot to live up to after setting the bar high in 2011 with their Album of the Year Grammy win for The Suburbs. While this album seemed unbeatable, the group has unsurprisingly proven that they are not ready to turn in their guitars and admit contention.

On Oct. 24, Arcade Fire blessed their fans with the public release of an 85-minute YouTube video of their new album, Reflektor, scheduled to be available for purchase on iTunes on Oct. 29. While many ecstatic devotees were privileged to capture a coveted (and free) early listen, many jumped on the chance to buy Reflektor to have in their eternal possession.

Reflektor is undoubtedly an album for the record books. While Arcade Fire is notorious for artistically portraying heavy themes like mortality, love and uncertainty in a darker and perfected context like Funeral or The Suburbs, this time around the band confirmed its ingenuity by blending these complex concepts with experimental, disco-esque electronic sounds and lighter, looser percussion. What resulted was quite wonderful.

The album starts off with arguably one of Arcade Fire’s best singles yet: “Reflektor.” As the most anthemic song on the album, “Reflektor” can best be described as effortlessly majestic, incorporating groovy percussion and sub-vocals from the legendary David Bowie.

What follows is easily the grooviest song on Reflektor; “We Exist” pays a brilliant homage to the era of disco with a slick bass groove and solid, impenetrable beat not so dissimilar from its predecessor. I’m still trying to get the unbelievably addictive chorus and bridge melody out of my mind, but the drums keep a driving beat in the back of my head.

In addition to the hint of disco, the band’s trip to Haiti inspired the catchy reggae-rock sound intertwined with the casual percussion beats. This new style can be heard in the subtle tropical notes of “Flashbulb Eyes.” Many times bands play with fire by tinkering with hit-or-miss sounds, but I’m really impressed that Arcade Fire incorporates the tink of the xylophone seamlessly in its reggae-inspired melodies.

Just when Arcade Fire has all fans convinced they have turned a blind eye to their old sound, they remind us that they haven’t completely lost their rock touch with “Normal Person,” “You Already Know” and “Joan of Arc.” The carefree tempo, bass guitar and piano backdrop bring a feeling of nostalgia to dedicated fans missing the classic Arcade Fire rock anthems. I appreciated their salute back to the old days, but we can expect that there’s really no turning back.

Despite their impeccable composition and arrangement skills, what makes Arcade Fire truly special isn’t just their ability to create a unique combination of tones and beats within each song. I highly encourage any potential listeners to hear the album succession; one song after the other, just as the band meticulously and thoughtfully planned it. Just after “Joan of Arc,” Reflektor is split into two discs, and the distinction between the two halves reveals an intentional dichotomy between raw, concrete melodies and ambiguous, more surreal tones that together tell one larger story.

While although the first song on the second disc “Here Comes the Night Time II” is the postlude to its first part, it is also its complete antithesis. It perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the second half: slow, eerie and ominous.

Instead of going out with a bang like most albums, we can leave it to Arcade Fire to keep us guessing. “Supersymmetry” is a pensive and simplistic arrangement that rounds out the entire album sweetly without failing to make us question the song’s true intentions. The serene harmonies and dreamlike instruments leave me wondering if Arcade Fire is hinting that maybe, just maybe, the band isn’t saying farewell quite yet.

Overall I think it’s safe to say that Arcade Fire has really outdone themselves this time. Whether you’re a til-death-do-us-part AF fan or a newbie curious what all the buzz is about, Reflektor cannot be passed up. If at first you’re taken aback by the seemingly unusual composition, keep listening and I promise you will never be able to stop.

 

For all the fellow die-hard Arcade Fire fans out there, Reflektor may seem like one too many steps off the beaten path of the band’s usual rock-infested sound. While you may find yourself still clinging to the scratched and cracked vinyl of The Suburbs, make sure to stop and appreciate the brilliance of Reflektor for what it is: an amalgamate of culture, cosmos and purpose that still rings true to the comfort of home.

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