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A stunningly brilliant debut album
on November 20, 2004
Only five years ago I was somewhat despondent about the state of rock music. Relatively little exciting new music was being produced compared with previous decades in the history of rock. But the past few years has seen an explosion of really fine bands from all over the planet, not merely from around the U.S. and England, but in every area of Europe and, as in the case of Arcade Fire, Canada. Most of these bands tend to fall into either of two categories: back to roots bands (usually European, where they go back almost to garage roots, and bands that synthesize much of the history of rock to create their own unique mixture. Arcade Fire clearly belongs to the latter. Like a band like Modest Mouse, Arcade Fire constantly reminds you of other bands. Most frequently I'm reminded of the Pixies and Talking Heads, but almost as often I hear echoes of Roxy Music, Joy Division, or even David Bowie and Brian Eno.
As anyone knows who has heard anything at all about this album, it was produced shortly after members of the band suffered the deaths of several family members in less than a month. This clearly gives the album not merely its title, but a lot of its urgency and focus. The album doesn't, however, deal with death (like Lou Reed's LOVE AND MAGICK does, for instance) but with love and life. The heart of the album is the quartet of the songs that share the title "Neighborhood." They take up four of the first five tracks on the album, and each one is utterly splendid in its own way. I might have a slight preference for the first one, subtitled "Tunnels," but if you ask me on a different listening I might opt for another. The album hardly slows down after that quartet of songs is finished (and for the record, the 3rd cut, "Une Année Sans Lumière," is one of the stronger cuts on the album, and the one that immediately follows the final "Neighborhood" song, "Crown of Love," is another amazingly strong number. If the album fades at all (and compared to most other recent rock albums, even good ones, it doesn't), it is near the end. But even then, the next to last cut on the album, "Rebellion (Lies)," is as good as anything the album contains.
One thing that marks nearly every song on the album is the wonderful way that they employ contrasts. Most songs build rather slowly, to build up to a glorious, powerful crescendo. Many of the songs have a kind of majesty that many heavy metal bands, for instance, strive for, but rarely achieve. One thing, however, that sets them apart from many of the bands I mentioned as possible influences is that they have a very powerful, dynamic rhythm section. I absolutely adore the Pixies, but they almost intentionally submerge the rhythm section in the music. In Arcade Fire, despite all of the musical trappings, the drums and bass propel the song forward, and in the many songs where the tension and tempo build, they always lead the charge. Just listen to "Rebellion (Lies)" and watch how the rhythm section controls the song.
This is easily one of the best debut albums in recent years, and I eagerly await their next album. As I write this review, I am only a few days away from seeing these guys live in Chicago at the Logan Square Theater.
Note: Big thanks to my brother for calling my attention to these guys.