Arcade Fire – Reflektor (Sonovox)

Arcade Fire, Reflektor Major Tom orbits around these discs looking down with a wry smile.

4 Stars

13 Tracks / 75 minutes

“Each time we’ve made a record, the band could easily have been called… The Neon Bibles, The Suburbs… It’s almost as if we are launching a new band every time; that’s how we’ve always approached it.” That is how Arcade Fire’s Win Butler explains their philosophy to Rainn Wilson (http://pitchfork.com/news/53468-watch-rainn-wilson-interviews-arcade-fires-win-butler-in-the-back-of-a-van/). It also explains why this new release is so very different to what has gone before.

On the first few listens, there is so much going on that it is hard to tell where each layer stops and another starts. Synths bubble away, loops loop along and the conventional rhythm section merges into electronica. I even wondered whether these new songs could be played live.

The band soon put paid to that question, showing how easily they work in front of a crowd, but by then the songs’ bones had begun to show through the production clothes that they were wearing. It is the best of both worlds: the songs’ colourful treatments add a lot, but they would often stand on their own without the extra layers. The choruses often wear big boots.

Co-produced between the band and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, there is a substantial groove from start to finish. Sometimes it takes on a rock hue, sometime a shade of pop, but the album’s substance is a sub-stationful of electronica. The title track represents it well, not just because it has the addictive grooves that form most of the set, but because the cameo appearance of David Bowie is a more tangible form of Major Tom’s presence that orbits both discs. As well as the unsurprising similarity to LCD Soundsystem, there are also generous splashes of New Order and Talking Heads in the mix and a (coincidental?) OMD sound to “Joan of Arc.”

Hooks? Yes, they are there, but not as instant as (for example) “The Sprawl II” from The Suburbs. Most tracks have something that keeps them in your head, especially “Reflektor”. “Normal Person” has vocal hooks and breaks out into a tongue-in-cheek lead guitar riff; while “Here Comes the Night Time” has its plinky-plonk piano riff to add to its experimental approach, drastic speed changes coming from nowhere and reverting again. The release only starts to run out of steam around the appropriately shallow “Porno” and on the final piece, which ends in a very lengthy fade out of noodling (and why not? It’s better than nothing).

Unlike some previous work, there is little in the way of insightful social comment. It’s as if they have been there and want to lighten up; the lyrics seem ambiguous at best. This is unnecessarily a double album (as with Over the Rhine’s recent release, where both discs would eaily fit onto one). Allegedly, the title comes from this idea, where each disc reflects the other. If this is the case I cannot see how. “Here Comes the Night Time II” doesn’t even match “Here Comes the Night Time,” either in its tune or place in the running order.

But that doesn’t matter. This is predominantly a dance album filled with grooves. It is vibrant and laughs in the face of the critics who have panned it. Play The Suburbs afterwards and you will be able to hear that fade to grey in comparison.

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