Category Archives: Music

2 years with Arcade Fire

I was first introduced to Arcade Fire through an ex. I am not exactly sure when, but I am pretty sure it was in his car heading to God knows where. My ex had the habit of stashing a big pile of CDs in his car, some of which would often end up in the floor, hiding bellow the seats or even falling as we opened the doors. As avid fans of Radiohead and anything that has had any relation to the band at any level, my ex and I often agreed in terms of music taste. While his music preferences had started to evolve away from alternative rock and more towards indie-dance, he still kept a small selection of indie-rock within his stash. Among them was Arcade Fire and the CD of theirs he would so casually pick was Neon Bible, their sophomore LP.

There was something about the music that I listened to that day that immediately intrigued me. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight, but there was enough in my first few listens to drive me to continue to listen with increasing affection. After a week or so, I remember Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible had become a customary part of all of my car rides, even when my ex was not exactly thrilled about my new-found love given that his liking for the band had begun to subside.

In Neon Bible, I would find solace in its profound lyrics, embedded with layers of meaning that accompanied me through my break-up (it had nothing to do with my dictatorial control over music, just in case you’re wondering….). Songs like “Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” or “Antichrist Television Blues” just had an intrinsic quality to them that moved me, often taking me to a place of sadness, but also of inspiration.

Fittingly, my ex was also responsible for the introduction of Arcade Fire’s Funeral, a few months after we had consummated and even accepted our separation. It turns out he gave me the band’s first album as a “gift” in an attempt to make amends and salvage at least a friendship out of our long relationship. I accepted his gesture and, to this day, I hold on to his CD, although the gesture did not pan out to be more than our last musical exchange, a memoir to a relationship that wasn’t meant to be.

Funeral, as he had told me many times, was a better album. For as long as I kept listening to Neon Bible, I simply had refused to expand my horizon into what sounded to me, after very short listens, as a far more pedestrian LP. It wasn’t long in my new found solitude that I found a friend in Funeral, an even better friend than Neon Bible. The album was simpler, with less grandiosity but far more meaningful songs that bordered on the “simply gorgeous” stature. The first and best song “Neighborhood (Tunnels)” painted a picture for me like few songs ever have. This was a picture of nostalgia for childhood, for family and for a long lost love. Like the rest of the album, “Neighborhood” was coated with an aura of sadness and unfulfilled desires that I related to. Funeral, unlike its follow-up, allowed the band’s front man Edwin Butler to excel with his tuneful but always nostalgic voice, never truer than in the gloomy “Crown of Love”.

As it was the case in Neon Bible, Funeral leaves some of the best for last. While the first had the grand but effective “My Body is a Cage”, Arcade Fire crowned the exquisite Funeral with the beautiful voice of Butler’s wife, Regine Chassagne, in the introverted and meaningful “In the Backseat”.

It would be a long while before I had the chance to put my hands on new Arcade Fire material since, once again, I found myself trapped by one of their albums and I was reluctant to explore beyond, perhaps wary of possible disappointment. Nevertheless, my desire to listen to new tracks eventually dissipated my doubts and I downloaded (legally I might add) their third and last LP to date: The Suburbs.

Once again, I was pulled into a world of powerful lyrics, with moving melodies that ranged from the grandeur exhibited in Neon Bible, to the more quaint and simple quality of Funeral, but also introducing a type of in-your-face rock side to their music they hadn’t shown much of. Some songs were truly refreshing and different within their brand of music, while others were familiar but even more polished and triumphant than in their previous work.

The Suburbs is, in their relatively young career, THE album that every indie-rock band wants to make. The album is the evolution of their brand, taking the very best qualities from their previous two efforts and putting them all together to create a repertoire that could easily end up being their “magnus opus”. In fact, it is hard to think of an album by their making that could reach superior heights, but then again, they have always managed to surprise me.

From the very first track that bears the title of the album, passing through “Modern Man”, “City with no Children”, “Deep Blue” and “We Used to Wait”, the album remains steadily great, rarely encountering weak moments that are more commonly found in either Funeral or Neon Bible. It is on that consistency of sound, of being able to grab, keep and elevate your attention that The Suburbs feels superior than anything I have heard for a long time.

I can only say I hope more of the same comes and that Arcade Fire remains at the same level, never settling for less and, even though I am doubtful about their ability to continue to outdo themselves, I can at least hope for more high-quality albums that deserve all of my love and attention.

Niels

Advertisements

The King of Limbs

After a couple of weeks struggling to get my computer back to work (after my hard-drive was corrupted for some strange reason), I finally managed to download (legally from their website) the new Radiohead album: the King of Limbs. It is their 8th studio album of new material, and the 8th one I own.

My appreciation of Radiohead’s new album comes with a certain bias. I am an absolute Radiohead fan ever since I decided to buy their acclaimed “OK Computer” in my freshman year of college. It was a happy accident since I had barely heard any of their music. I had just seen a special on tv about the best alternative albums of the 90s and Radiohead featured pretty high on the list. There was something in the snippets of music that they played during the special that caught my attention and I ended up wanting to hear what all the fuzz was about. It was probably around that time in my life when I started appreciating the work of professional critics, and the art section in the NY Times has just started to become a part of my weekly reads.

Now…back to the King of Limbs.

The album, like most of their precedent work, is at first, second or third listen very elusive. It hardly ever provides a catchy hook or riff, the lyrics are not straightforward and they do not narrate a particular story. Radiohead becomes understandable and profound once you have given their songs a chance to sink in.

Whenever fans and critics alike think Radiohead will once again arrive back at their more traditional rock roots, the band delivers work that could be considered experimental and unfamiliar. The King of Limbs, like Kid A in 2000, is an electronic departure, where guitars almost entirely disappear and the drumming of Phillip Selway comes to the forefront to add some rhythm to an otherwise “beat-less” sound. The album does not excite and it does not thrill in any easily-defined way. The songs talk about deceit, about the desire to escape conformity and being unable to do so. Interestingly, all of the members of the band have two children each, with either long-time girlfriends or wives, which would lead you to think their music might be coming from deep desires to start over or to have taken different routes.

I do feel, however, that the King of Limbs fails more often than any of their previous albums. While Kid A was excitingly difficult and interestingly rich in variety, their latest effort seems more flat, an experiment that works at times but that also fails at others. The strangeness of Kid A lent itself to happy accidents scattered throughout the album such as “Idioteque”, a dancy/techno sound that despite being unequivocally rooted in the aesthetic of Kid A, it was also different enough to the rest of the songs to make it stand out on its own.

There are exactly three incredibly worthy songs in The King of Limbs: Feral, Lotus Flower and Separator.

Feral is bizarre, with a quick drumming and a rather eclectic sound that is never simple to follow. Feral is one of those experiments that work because it sounds different not just to sound different, but with a melodic purpose that is fresh and rich.

Lotus Flower is the catchiest in an album deprived of catchy songs. That is not to say it is anywhere close to what we find in any mainstream pop song, but it is certainly a much-welcomed relief to an album without any other relief.

Lastly, but certainly not least, is Separator, the true jewel of the album. The song has stunningly haunting vocals, gorgeous lyrics and a far simpler melody that features the only guitars in the surprisingly short 37-minute long album. Everything about the song seems to promise a return of Radiohead to more traditionally great rock records like The Bends or OK Computer. The guitars appear distant but accessible, the vocals remind us of a more approachable Yorke, and of a time when Radiohead could do different without trying so hard.

To enjoy the video for Lotus Flower follow this link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfOa1a8hYP8

Niels