Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Arcade Fire - 'The Suburbs'

It sounds a bit weird maybe, but I've always felt a closeness with Arcade Fire - I say 'always'; I actually got onto them circa the release of second album 'Neon Bible', and even then entirely randomly. I bought the album having heard absolutely nothing from the band before; I was ordering another album - I think it may have been the latest Modest Mouse - and the website I was on recommended some random group called Arcade Fire's then-new album. I took a chance - why, I'm really not sure - and it's something I've been immensely grateful for ever since.
'Neon Bible' was an epic; swirling cacophonous noise pouring out of a church organ brought you down to depressing depths, contrasting with the majestic uplifting power of orchestral melodies - you have to understand, I'm a flute player, and finding a band that can make your geeky woodwind instrument seem credible is quite something. And it wasn't all intricate yet distorted baroque grandeur either, as you'd suddenly find yourself in the stripped-down company of merely acoustic guitars and vocals, a beautiful juxtaposition to the fullness of the sound on other tracks. Truth be told, I barely listened to the Modest Mouse album, such was my newfound rapture with Arcade Fire, this wonderful band who made music unlike anything I'd ever heard.
I eagerly sought out their debut 'Funeral' next, and was not disappointed - the woeful charm of the album was undeniable, and I found I loved it just as much as 'Neon Bible', if for different reasons - musically at least, it was certainly a less weighty affair than their second album. The band have described their musical aspiration as wanting to bring medieval music to the Pixies, and crazy as that might seem if you're trying to imagine what that might sound like, that really does just sum them up; they have mastered that epic fusion of new and old, and have managed it incredibly.
So, two wonderful - somber now and then, yes, but wonderful nonetheless - albums in, and here we are now with their third offering, 'The Suburbs'; I'm not going to lie, I thought I would be disappointed, but once again this band who, for me, came out of nowhere, have left me pleasantly surprised. Once again we find ourselves greeted by darkness, but as ever with Arcade Fire, there is a crack of light - perhaps even more so than on either of their previous albums - that diffuses through the album and somehow makes listening to an album about suburban doom and gloom a relatively enjoyable experience. As well as the expected incredible mix of guitar rock and classical music, the album sees forays into weird and wonderful M83-style dazzling synths, as well as creepy and dissonant distortion. Amazing.
Time and more listening will tell if the album will achieve for me the heights of bittersweet beauty, 'Funeral', or the abundant allure of 'Neon Bible', but having listened to it as a whole a couple times now, it is thus far an amazing follow-up. Even disregarding their previous efforts this album is something to be proud of, a fantastic listen in it's own right. Arcade Fire seem to be one of the few bands out there who know exactly how best to exploit their sound, and it seems that album after album they will continue to achieve something that sounds fresh and new, yet somehow just as sublime as before.
If you'd like to try before you buy, for a limited time you can listen to a stream of the whole album on American radio station NPR [here], and, also for a limited time, and only if you're in the UK, you can listen to BBC Radio 1's 'The Story of Arcade Fire' [here] which is pretty interesting.
'The Suburbs' is out now on Mercury, and you can buy it here. Another beautiful album from this amazing band.


Hanan said...

when they cover The Clash with a mandolin, they sound very medieval indeed. great review dude

Tara said...

That's what I mean - like what other band could possibly pull off shit like that?! Amazing. Thanks, Hanan - hope you're having a great summer! :)