Friday, November 1, 2013

Point: Arcade Fire's Reflektor

As a self-described Arcade Fire fan, I had been highly anticipating the new album, their first after being pushed into the Grammy spotlight. Singer Win Butler recently spoke of how, when in Haiti, they had to perform without the sort of musical history that we take for granted, instead “connecting to people on a purely rhythmic, musical level…completely stripped of context.” Because of this, the band claims that this is a danceable album, although in true Arcade Fire style one filled with fear and anxiety (see “Here Comes the Night Time”). But if there’s something this album does not do it's strip the context from their music, the very nature of name suggesting its meant to be a reflection of something greater and in this sense the album demands context. 

This is an album that speaks with others, one where the band attempts to encompass other works and envelop them into their own. However Arcade Fire does not seem to meet these goals skillfully as they make their experimentation too obvious and self-satisfied. Reflektor attempts to call on everything from the Orpheus myth, to colonialism, to the nature of musical transmission itself. You can hear this in the work of producer and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, who forces the rhythm sections to pop, drawing the listener’s attention to Haitian beats used throughout many songs. Or on tracks such as “Normal Person” where the band almost pokes fun at a certain style of live rock music by thanking people for showing up. The production highlights the self conscious nature of the album, a self consciousness often thrown in your face, as when things become jarringly reversed as in “Here Comes the Night Time I”. Here, particularly, the experimental nature of this fourth album seems forced. They are pushing in ways that makes their self reflection quite obvious, and unfortunately it draws attention to how other bands and genres do this much more skillfully.

Reflektor is an album that attempts to reflect on so many different aspects of music and music transmission that it begins to lose itself and instead brings to the forefront the bands own self-seriousness. But perhaps in this way what this fourth album reflects on the most is Arcade Fire themselves. Ironically through production the album highlights beats and sounds that makes it sound live, but given the very nature of production techniques it becomes difficult to achieve the same effect in performance as shown in recent television appearances, where the music seemed incredibly dry despite gimmicky box traps.  Because of the ways in which the album pushes, it never leaves you space to actually stop and breathe. It drags on with longish tracks and then there's still part two which starts with “Here Comes the Night Time II”, a short track that still finds a way to drag and then launches into an average song length of 7 minutes.  Throughout the double album the beats themselves press forward constantly and the production only adds to the jarring experimentation in a way that ruins the ideas operating behind the album. The keyboards on "Afterlife” make one uncomfortable in such an obvious way  that the magical quality which forces you to think about an album such as this becomes lost. Almost everything about this album seems forced and you can hear it in beats itself. The strongest track of the album, “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” works because the sound does not push too strongly, allowing you to discover the anxiety within the song yourself. But still by the end Reflektor leaves the listener exhausted.  

Arcade Fire has torn away from their sound for this fourth album, but perhaps they weren't ready. We can still hear their signature style creeping through songs like “Afterlife” and “Awful Sound” in a way that unfortunately reminds the listener that the band actually has strengths which they for whatever reason are refusing to acknowledge in this album.  They seem so completely enveloped in this idea of experimentation that they can’t just break free, let loose, and truly see what remains unexplored in the musical world. Their tongue in cheek stage jokes, the disco balls, mirrors, and promotional gimmicks requiring fans to jump through hoops only make them seem like they take their own tongue in cheek seriousness too seriously. And in this way while trying to demonstrate musical maturity the band shows that they haven’t progressed past the versions of themselves which stood on stage dressed for a funeral.

- Michelle Padley, Promotions Assistant

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