After a promotional roll-out involving mysterious graffiti, surprise shows, teaser videos, and a Saturday Night Live appearance followed by a thirty-minute special, the album has arrived at long last.
I’ve loved and admired Arcade Fire since Funeral, but approached this album unbiased and void of the hype. Taking notes while carefully listening through, I’ve come to appreciate this fourth effort far beyond it’s listening value. With first reactions ranging from the album being too long, to it being the best of the decade, to the LP being called a grower, it’s true beauty will lie in the ear of the beholder.
The much-anticipated double-album had three producers (their regular producer Markus Dravs, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame, and Arcade Fire themselves,) and was recorded over the course of three years in Haiti, Jamaica, Montreal, and New York. An album of epic proportions, Reflektor was bound to receive abounding criticism from every possible outlet and angle; after all, after Arcade Fire’s third release (The Suburbs) won a Grammy for Album of The Year three years ago, this follow-up album had the bar set high.
It may seem like a radical departure from the band’s previous art-rock sound, managing to escape the mainstream and enter a new era. Probably my favorite description of the album thus far? “Arcade Fire’s fourth album is pure death disco: a pulsating, electronic work, heavy of theme but light on its feet. It’s fixated on the departed; with ghosts (‘We Exist,’ they declare), memory, heaven (which runs a strict no-beats policy, according to ‘Here Comes The Night Time’), and breaking on through to the other side.”
Win Butler claims it’s main influences were Haitian “rara” (as well as Jamaican) music, the 1959 film Black Orpheus, and Søren Kierkegaard’s essay, The Present Age. The album’s artwork features an image of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of Orpheus & Eurydice, ancient Greek characters referenced on the latter half of the album for their relationship to both love and the afterlife. (Eurydice was the wife of Orpheus, who tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music.) Their presence on the album cover serves to emphasize its overall theme being the departed.
The initial untitled ‘hidden’ track is a haunting ten-minute mosaic of the entire album. It plays like your driving through the middle of the night on a dark, empty stretch of highway with distant radio stations fading in and out along your way. It’s layered, suspenseful, and beautiful – complete with hip-hop beats, riffs played backwards, and an orchestra among other things.
The title-track and lead-off single of the album provides a solid start. “Reflektor” wonderfully showcases the band’s recent influences via 80s’ synth bounce, dub reggae, dancing electronics, and an upbeat thumping bass line. The track has a mysteriously entertaining music video, and ends with an epic climax and piano melody that will echo in your head for days. The following track, “We Exist,” happens to be one of my favorite on the album. It continues the unraveling theme of introspection, beginning with a foreboding bass line that dares you not to move. It’s sound echoes something that might’ve been on their previous record, but with a bolder crunch.
As the shortest track on the album, “Flashbulb Eyes” might be easily looked over if not careful. It almost seems like more of a transition to the following track, echoing the sentiment of having nothing to hide. Its reggae meets outer space meets garage rock, that might’ve been recorded in an underwater chamber. It leads into one of the most meaningful and catchy tracks on the album, “Here Comes The Night Time.” Introduced with chatter quickly followed by intense world beats beneath a soaring electric guitar and pulsing waves of bass, the daunting promise “Here comes the night time…” precedes the most infectious chime melody you’ve ever heard. “When you look in the sky, just try looking inside. God knows what you might find.” Win calls us to prepare ourselves, search ourselves, and look inward for our hope.
“Normal Person” sounds like it starts in a small, dimly-lit club and asks “Is any one as strange as a normal person? Is any one as cruel as a normal person? Am I a normal person? …am I cruel enough for you?” The song challenges the status quo as well as the listener with old-school rock vibes. It’s a revolution that states, “If that’s what’s normal now, I don’t want to know.” The abrupt, slamming rock chorus with screaming guitar may have to grow on some, but the song’s too important to judge merely by it’s sound or style. It not only questions what normal really is, but questions why anyone would want to be normal. It begs the question if normal really even exists and turns it down if it does. “You Already Know” is a solid track with a swinging bass line and Clash-style punk-funk guitar. “Please stop wondering why you feel so bad, when you already know.” (Arcade Fire continues forcing us to take good, hard looks at ourselves and the way we think.)
“Joan of Arc” continues with a vintage punk intro that transitions into a verse drenched with the 80s. The driving guitar leading to a sprawling chorus that shines with vocal harmonies reminiscent of the B-52’s. The first half of the album concludes with the same white noise it began with, leaving you isolated in a spacious dark expanse looking inward rather than upward.
“Here Comes The Night Time II” continues the foreboding warning of what’s to come with a haunting chant, organ, and synth. “You hurt yourself again, along with all your friends. Feels like it never ends. Here comes the night again.” The track features electronics swimming through a sea of strings. “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” is a remarkably unique track. It has an industrial-flavored, island-influenced cadence with a thumping bass walking over it, vintage guitars splashes, and strings rising and falling. It almost sounds like you’re falling to earth amidst a meteor shower. “It’s an awful sound when you hit the ground.” Unlike any song you’ve probably ever heard.
“It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” is hands-down my favorite track on the album. Like a space station in orbit, it features intergalactic synth, an intro that builds, an attacking guitar leading into the verse, and a crisp beat tailor-made for dancing. There’s feedback, lots going on, vocal harmonies, distorted bass swells, and funky guitars. It retreats into a heart-beat rhythm with toned-down fingerpicking before crashing back into the chorus with Régine Chassagne and Butler with their finest vocal interplay. “Porno,” despite the bubbling electronics, is one of the most human songs on Reflektor. It’s an emotion-drenched, mid-tempo, love song everyone can relate to. Is there something wrong with us? Are we really who we appear to be? Are people who they really appear to be or are we in love with a front? The track name may seem out of place at first glance, but couldn’t be more fitting. In a world losing more of it’s innocence every single day, sex sells. Man-made production value. Make-up. Photoshop. It’s the shallow counterfeit of true love. “…and all your make-up, take it off. I’ve got to find you, before the line is lost.” The track’s a gem.
Another one of my top tracks, I can’t get enough of the upbeat “Afterlife.” (“Oh my God, what an awful word.”) Reflecting on life after death, Butler desperately asks “Can we work it out? Scream and shout till we work it out?” Heavilyy bouncing synth pulses throughout. Enough cannot be said about final track “Supersymmetry.” The album begins and ends with epic songs eclipsing the ten-minute mark. “I know you’re living in my mind. It’s not the same as being alive.” Still exploring what happens next (literally and metaphorically,) it’s sweeping, reflective, and beautiful. It appears to follow someone after the loss of a loved one and paints the seasons of life we go through. The definition of the word ‘supersymmetry’ is as follows: “a grand unified field theory that attempts to unify fundamental forces.” The title of the track is borrowed from physics as a beautiful metaphor of the ongoing bond between love in this life and the after life. (Such as the ancient myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as any given relationship today. The song, in my opinion, contains one of the finest lyrics ever penned: “If telling the truth is not polite, then I guess we’ll have to fight.” The final five minutes are best described as an audible trip through outer space, slowly descending back to earth after a breath-taking journey of self-discovery, introspection, love, loss, hope, and the unanswered question everyone has asked since the beginning: What’s after this?
The same could be asked of Arcade Fire. This album’s beyond a pleasure to listen to; I believe it has the ability to take you somewhere, teach you things about yourself you may not have realized, and better you. Listen closely. After successfully releasing a bold and haunting fourth album, I’m confident that wherever their next steps may lead them, I’ll want to follow.
= Content & Social Media Manager of @Do503.