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article imageReview: Arcade Fire 'reflekts' on reflections of reflections on new album Special

By Michael Thomas     Oct 31, 2013 in Entertainment
Arcade Fire found themselves the toast of the world in 2011, taking home a Grammy for Album of the Year and the year's Polaris Prize. Rather than rest on their laurels, the band has created something refreshingly different with 'Reflektor.'
Arcade Fire have long been known as a "big ideas" band. Funeral was an unflinching look at death and is regularly considered one of the best Canadian albums ever produced; Neon Bible examined religion, while The Suburbs tapped into the alienation of suburban life.
With Reflektor, Arcade Fire are primarily taking aim at screens as a means of communication. Helpfully, the band strikes at this theme with its opening number, the title track. The nearly eight-minute groove-filled number is catchy enough on its own, but it strikes on several levels, first illuminating the paradox of "connecting" with someone online; "I thought I found the connector," front man Win Butler sings, alongside front woman Regine Chassagne. "But it's just a reflector." Later, as Butler sings of "a reflection of a reflection" the song reaches a second level of reference, referring to Jean Baudrillard's [i]Simulacra and Simulation[/i],
The album is also heavily into its Greek mythology. Its cover depicts the statue of Orpheus and Eurydice, with a pair of songs on the second disc also referencing their fatal love story.
Musically, the band is producing something completely different from their lauded album The Suburbs. Rather than make a The Suburbs II, Arcade Fire have instead embraced grooves. The album was reportedly influenced by the band's time in Haiti (the country is likely referenced in "Here Comes the Night Time"), though listeners won't immediately make the association save for the quick, Caribbean-influenced "Flashbulb Eyes," with its use of heavy delay and heavy beat.
This isn't to say that they've made a dance record, however. The first disc is certainly meant to be moved to, though the compositions vary so wildly that you might suddenly want to head-bang directly after a slow burner. The overt pop catchiness of "You Already Know," which wouldn't have sounded out of place on a previous record, is jarring next to the punk-rock-influenced opening beats of "Joan of Arc," which quickly slows down and speeds up several times more before it comes to an end. "Normal Person" is also a heavily rock-oriented track with a blaring guitar riff in the chorus.
Reflektor's second disc is s much harder-to-define half, but seems to be the point of quieter contemplation. It opens and closes on two sombre notes, with "Here Comes the Night Time II," an orchestral-heavy reprise of the previous disc's track, and "Supersymmetry," respectively.
In between those tracks, the pair of Greek-mythology-referencing tunes "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" and "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)" act as a pair of contrasts. The former keeps a round of steady percussion backing it up with synthesizers and guitars taking the forefront. The latter has more of a kick thanks to the continued gang vocals repeating "Hey Orpheus!"
The second-act highlight is definitely "Afterlife," with its ingenious use of strings (courtesy of longtime collaborators Owen Pallett and Sarah Neufeld), bright synthesizers and effective hooks.
The main flaw with the album lies in its length, at well over an hour for the total of 13 tracks. Though the sound is more dispersed than the year's other high-profile, lengthy release, several songs could be just as effective with 30 seconds or a minute shaved off, particularly the 11-minute closer "Supersymmetry," in which the main melody drops out at about the five-minute mark, leaving the remaining time a flurry of electronics.
The album will take some time to digest. While its theme is hammered out early on, it isn't constantly hitting the listener on the head. Nor is the album, as noted earlier, meant to be an album to dance to. Anyone who was hoping for one of the other will likely be disappointed, but Reflektor shouldn't be an album so easily pigeonholed. It's a bold and welcome record for a band that could have gone stale. The result is something truly invigorating.
More about arcade fire, reflektor, merge records, Montreal
 
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