Review: Arcade Fire

‘Reflektor’ (First Impressions)
October 24, 2013

Reflektor, the much-hyped, guerrilla-marketed double album from Montreal’s Arcade Fire, is a charming behemoth. Clocking in at almost 80 minutes, it also marks a drastic change in the band’s sound. Produced alongside James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem fame) and Markus Dravs (Coldplay, Björk, Mumford & Sons), Reflektor is a glittering, disco-infused collection of tracks, and a statement of intent from one of the world’s most critically acclaimed acts.

We’ve condensed those 80 minutes into a play-by-play of each track. So put on your dancing shoes and bring something shiny – here’s our reflektions.

Watch: Arcade Fire – Reflektor (Official Album Stream)

Reflektor – Vol. 1

1. Reflektor

Of a reflection, of a reflection, of a reflection, of a reflection…” Bouncy synth lines and a four-on-the-floor rhythm; the James Murphy-isms have already seeped in. Arcade Fire’s airy charm is still there from track one, just layered with horns, strings and synths. Oh, and there are a few lines of French from vocalist Régine Chassagne and an appearance from David Bowie, for art’s sake.

2. We Exist

A formula is coming into view: layer a heap of instruments, hold the resulting texture for maximum impact, come off as ‘arena-ready’. 2013’s flirtations with retro-futurism *cough*Daft Punk*cough* come through with some ’80s flashback synths, and suddenly Arcade Fire have an effortless cool about them.

3. Flashbulb Eyes

Dub bass lines, more jumping electronics, echoing vocals a la The Flaming Lips, xylophones and some hypnotic Haitian rhythms. “Hit me with your flashbulb eyes” sings frontman Win Butler. Can a photograph really steal a part of your soul?

4. Here Comes the Night Time

The rhythm is still dancey, but now there’s a childlike piano melody over the top of it. Something isn’t right. The track fidgets, bounces on a reggae pulse, before descending into an all-out tribal party. Which means galloping drums, wailing guitars and ENERGY.

5. Normal Person

Do you like rock ‘n’ roll music? / Cause I don’t know if I do,” mutters Butler. But Normal Person is a song with an ironically acerbic stadium-rock sound rarely seen in Arcade Fire’s previous work. It’s mosh-friendly. It climbs, falls, then climbs again. What’s ‘normal’ these days anyway?

6. You Already Know

This track begins with talk show host Jonathan Ross announcing in his warm British tone, “Arcade Fire!”, and ends with the applause of his audience. In the middle, that formula is still being pushed, still bouncy and bittersweet. Think Rock the Casbah meets Talking Heads circa 1980.

7. Joan of Arc

The last track of Reflektor’s first half, this one is dotted with punk-ish guitar work and more French from Chassagne. Parts are sing-a-long friendly, but the track still has a slight darkness to it.

Watch: Arcade Fire – Here Comes the Night Time, We Exist and Normal Person

(Live from Salsatheque, Montreal)

Reflektor – Vol. 2

8. Here Comes the Night Time II

Now we’re in the second half. This one’s not so much a reprise for Here Comes the Night Time as it is a bridge to Reflektor’s more introverted side. The glitchy electronics are still there, but the overall vibe is immediately more sombre, spacey and serious. But not for long.

9. Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)

Tribal drumming, a bass line with a certain Arctic Monkeys quality to it, roomy synths and even some noisy, screeching dissonance. The Greek love-myth of Eurydice and Orpheus, in which Orpheus fails to retrieve his wife from the underworld by playing his music, becomes a central narrative. Butler laments “Will you ever get free?

10. It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)

Chassagne adopts the Eurydice character. “Hey Orpheus! I’m behind you! Don’t turn around!” she says. Starting out with more danceable funk and a cool swagger, this one morphs into something quite graceful.

11. Porno

Ignoring the ultimate elegance of the track before it, Porno gives us some kind of cheesy porno soundtrack recreation, with a Bee Gees backdrop and some finger-clicking. It’s not overly lighthearted though, the song’s beautifully expressive ending posits that “Love is real / A good disease”.

12. Afterlife

The Haitian rhythms return, dashes of luscious green foliage amongst all the shiny, metallic melodies: a “mash up of Studio 54 and Haitian voodoo” it most certainly is.

13. Supersymmetry

Reflektor’s most reserved track, Supersymmetry closes the album with a redeeming, slow-burning electronic trance of digital drones, shrills, beeps, bleeps and velcro synths. It paints a humbling picture of a band moving towards a more experimental, intricately detailed sound.

Arcade Fire’s Reflektor is released in Australia next Friday, 1st November. Stay tuned for Music Feeds‘ in-depth review next week!

Watch: Arcade Fire – Afterlife (Lyric Video)