Sunday, April 15, 2007

As promised, my thoughts on the latest Arcade Fire, about a month too late!!!

You know a lot of fine wines taste better a bit aged. So do record reviews.

The Arcade Fire were going to have a difficult time impressing me with their latest effort. I have enjoyed every second of "Funeral" a thousand times over. There is something different at work here on "Neon Bible." It is not as aggressive in its flawlessness as "Funeral" was back in 2004. The sonic territory explored here is the part that grabs me.

The overall atmosphere that the songs are giving is of a moment never to be captured again. I had heard, through my many contacts (i.e. Google) that this album was recorded in a church somewhere. Well, how's that for being different and innovative? Record it in a church! Enjoy the unique acoustics that this place could lend. Take yourself above and beyond the masses by employing age-old methods of song-recording. Record in a place that gives your song an untouchable sound quality. Untouchable as in unable to recreate.

Though the album was recorded in a Church, it is odd the immediate 'radio' sound that comes from the songs. 'Black Mirror' sounds like it was ripped from the airwaves. There's something off about it. Like it could have been so much crisper and cleaner and been a better song. HOWEVER, the organic outpouring of song that it became still lets me enjoy it, if it does have this effusive radio-ness, well then, let me imagine this is what radio might be like if radio were good at all. The syncopated French shouts are so enjoyable.

'Keep the Car Running' starts with that Fantasia, orchestra warming up sound, and who knew it could turn into such a dance-y number? This song is the essence of Arcade Fire, the reason I love their work so much, the reason most people don't understand them. I have NO IDEA how to interpret what Win Butler is singing about, but my foot-tapping and head-nodding translates into: a whispered plea in a crowded place, the impending doom with which we are all faced and the laughs we share in its wake, a touch from a person with whom you're in love that communicates 1000 things and fills you with so many different feelings that you can't figure out which ones to go after. 'Keep the Car Running' to me is my innate need to always have an exit point, an escape route. Whatever I'm going to get myself into, keep the car running, I'll be ready to hop in and speed away.

'Neon Bible' is a throwaway song to me, a nice little number to break up the majesty. 'Intervention' is incredible. There are so many different instruments and sounds, I'm amazed. The lyrics almost sound very political, and if they are, I don't take them as so. I take them as falling directly in line with the human war we all wage against each other: our feelings, falling in and out of love, inflicting damage to other's souls without regret or remorse, our souls damaged ourselves -- a uniquely human plight. Who cares about guns and presidents and the threat of nuclear war. All that matters is here, now, and the chance that your lover won't always be there. Standing next to your lover and the person he's cheated on you with--the comfort in their words and stares to each other, unintentional but so painful. If they dropped an atomic bomb on you at that point, why should you care, your world is gone anyway. 'Every spark of friendship and love will die without a home’ -- a desperate and pessimistic statement, but true, and also the quintessence of life. The mind-boggling desire of humans to make connections with one another is at work in this song, even if Arcade Fire didn't mean it that way.

And then there’s “No Cars Go” and its impassioned plea to everyone to “Let’s go! We don’t know where we’re going!” But Let’s go! Any person that feels the way Win Butler does when he cries out to the women and children, ‘let’s go!’, or feels the way those bells in “Keep the Car Running” do—always breaking my heart by going against the beat.

As time goes on, I am just getting bored of typing and my thoughts are becoming incoherent and are sort of superfluous. The general mood of “Neon Bible” is that its essence comes out in every song. Just as the songs on funeral told me the same thing—to all those who feel this undying desire to feel but not feel the pain that persists in their hearts, the weight that always weighs so heavy on their thoracic body cavities, their shoulders, their heads, even the strain that the sun puts on your eyes just opening them, don’t fear, the Arcade Fire is here, feeling that same way, making music in that semi-religious fashion that binds you and me to them.

“I’m standing on a stage, of fear and self-doubt, it’s a hollow play, but they’ll laugh anyway.”

Whatever. All this stuff about Rock and Roll can save the world—I sound like a dick.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Before I post my thoughts on Arcade Fire's latest work, I'll post my archaic thoughts on 'Funeral'

I wrote this for that great work of newspapering 'The Lion's Roar' back in March or April of 2005...... (Also, I did not pick the headline, I'm bad at that stuff, I wrote something very tongue-in-cheek and I believe my editor thought it a little 'overreaching')

The Arcade Fire release most essential album in a decade!

By Lauren Hysek

These days most albums seem to have expiration dates. They fill up radio time for a few months and are then relegated to the trash heap indefinitely. They should just affix stickers to the shrink-wrap: "Best If Heard Before Above Date."

However, every once in a while an album creeps up and showcases itself in so much timeless splendor that it makes all that drab radio music seem worthwhile. Kind of like the Eagles losing three in a row made the 4th attempt and subsequent win so much sweeter, so the kind of innovation and sonically glorious music on the Arcade Fire’s “Funeral” is appreciated all the more when placed among the uninspired nonsense the big record companies churn out.

Dispensing with the "radio music is the worst" manifesto, the music of the Arcade Fire is worth a word or two. Difficult it was trying to think of an album as veritably alive as “Funeral” in recent memory. The irony of the title “Funeral” is brilliant, for never was there an album more full of hope, happiness and vigor. Death does not even seem to make a cameo appearance on the album; the lyrics seem to revel in the reality of unhappy feelings. Death, endings and sadness are more than just a part of life; they are facilitators, rendering persons who encounter such things more red-cheeked and warm than they were before.

The sound that the Arcade Fire pumps out is rich, layered and complex and influences can be heard all over the album. There is a lot of musical tipping of the hat to 80s classics such as David Bowie, the Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen, and Joy Division. Win Butler, the male lead vocalist almost sounds like David Byrne of the Talking Heads, but don't hold him to it, because the tone, speed and volume of the voice is always changing. Regine Chassagne, the female vocalist, is just as undecided about her vocal style. Sometimes she could sound a little Bjork-esque, on other tracks she sounds whispery and sweetly melts her voice caramel-like into the music.

At times, the lyrics are enigmatic, but the crawling rhythms and bombastic crescendos will either make you forget about the confusing words or beg you to think about them in greater detail. "Neighborhood # 1 (Tunnels)," the opening track on the album, begins with a muted drum beat and stealthily implemented vocals, “…and if the snow buries my, my neighborhood,” you get the impression you’ve just walked into a continuing story. Jump right in, there are things happening, and more things will come later. The excitement builds up to the fourth track which is the third "Neighborhood" and is subtitled "Power Out," where the glockenspiel-embroidered, drum-beating, piano-fueled wonder song takes the listener to uncharted sonic territory.

Other tracks shine in their differentiation. "Haiti" is sung by the woman in the group, transporting you from the suburban goings-on of the "Neighborhood" to a paradise where steel drums accompany French and English lyrics about the turmoil that pervades a beautiful Caribbean nation. Later, "In the Backseat" also sung by the woman, Regine Chassagne, is a shocking display of pure heart-wrenching musical bliss. As ironic as that sounds, it is the perfect conclusion to the album, in that the piece is a part of a whole, and the both of them are at once heartbreaking and triumphant. The song that starts out so quietly reaches fever-pitch when you can almost see Chassagne pumping her fist in the air, singing, “I can watch the countryside!” as heartbeat drums and quivering strings (yes! Strings!) accompany her plea to remain in the backseat of life, because driving sometimes gets too scary, “I’ve been learning to drive my whole life.”

Not only does that line end the album in glorious fashion, it simultaneously drives home the theme of the album which is the prevailing truth about life in our post-modern world: Life is a constant struggle, you are learning all the time, but without the trials, it is difficult to feel very alive. The Arcade Fire have arrived to remind us that life is vibrant and it’s time to get up and live it.