If there is one consistent quality in Canadian rock group Arcade Fire’s music it is their inconsistency; Arcade Fire has a knack for releasing albums that sound so strikingly different from one another, while still always sounding just like Arcade Fire. The group’s latest effort, Reflektor, moves the band’s sonic focus towards more rhythmic style dance music that is seemingly inspired by disco and Haitian dance beats. This double LP comes in at just over a whopping 75-minutes, with most tracks averaging in over 6 minutes in length, making this Arcade Fire’s longest and densest release to date.The two discs have a definite tonal split between them: the first disc is an infectious, lively celebration of sorts, while the second is a darker, heart-wrenching love story.
The first part of the album opens up with the self-titled single “Reflektor”, a real mood-setting song burning with a disco fever and a disdain for the disconnection technology really creates between us. In the opening verse, Butlers sings about “the reflective age,” the idea that the digital age of constantly staring at screens and obsessing over social networking is really isolating us all more than we think. This concept is explored throughout the entire album, however it’s presence is the strongest on the first half. For example, when frontman Win Butler groans out “What if the camera really do take your soul?” on the track “Flashbulb Eyes,” there’s a suggestion that there’s a sort of emptiness in all the pictures that fill our iPhones. “Here Comes the Night Time” is a chaotic party of a song that begins with the sounds of Carnival. The pace quickly changes to a slower, bass, drum, and bongo driven Caribbean style dance beat, only to break into a high speed mess of drums and guitar minutes later. For a song that Arcade Fire seems so unable to decide what to do with, “Here Comes the Night Time” is an undeniable high point for the entire album, and is without a doubt the centerpiece of the first disc.
The rest of the first disc probably resonates a little easier with Arcade Fire fans, since the songs more resemble standard indie rock numbers. “Normal People” has the lyricism and tone of a rebellious 15-year-old, however the guitar riffs during the chorus give the song an anthemic quality, making the anti-normies song not feel ridiculous for a band that has been firmly established for almost a decade. “You Already Know” and “Joan of Arc” are the two safest tracks on the album, both having a similar sound to songs like “Ready to Start” off of their previous album The Suburbs.
Then comes the second half of Reflektor, opening with “Here Comes the Night Time II”. The second “Here Comes the Night Time” is the polar opposite of the first; while the first song presented the night as a celebration, this time around the night time brings with it some pain. Butlers’s flat delivery of “I hurt myself again, along with all my friends” is accompanied by swirling strings and piano and an extremely heavy bassline. It makes for the perfect introduction to the next pair of tracks, which incorporate the mythological love story of the sculpted couple, Orpheus and Eurydice, which appear on Reflektor’s album art. The tracks “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and ““It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” lyrically are a retelling of the classic Greek myth through the lenses of Arcade Fire. The first is from the perspective of Orpheus, and the second from Eurydice. The songs detail Eurydice’s attempted escape from Hades, where Orpheus is unable to turn around and face his lover while the two journey out of the underworld; if he does, Eurydice will be lost to him forever. Then comes “Porno,” which just absolutely gets in the listeners face with its heavy lyrics and catchy synth ridden beat. The sheer desperation in Butler’s voice as he cries “Makes me feel like something’s wrong with me” is the perfect setup for the climax of the album, “Afterlife”, which the band premiered online with a lyric video set to 1959 film Black Orpheus.
At its surface, Reflektor has an excessive amount of ambition that at times is countered by the its sheer density. There’s a lush amount of detail to be found in every song, which of course producer James Murphy most likely had a heavy hand in. A lot of songs on Reflektor aren’t going to click with a few casual listens, which is may be a turn off for a lot of long time fans. The band didn’t do themselves favors with the girth either; a lot of tracks should have been cut down or maybe even removed completely. “Flashbulb Eyes,” for example, isn’t a bad song, but it doesn’t really do much for the album as a whole. While as songs like “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” or the final 11 minute track “Supersymmetry,” carry on perhaps just a bit too long.
That being said, however, Reflektor also includes some of the best songs and musical ideas Arcade Fire have ever produced. Songs like “Afterlife,” “Here Comes the Night Time,” and “Reflektor” are great examples of why Arcade Fire are as revered in the music world as they are. On top of that, there’s just so much here to delve into and that’s the beauty of the Reflektor experience in a way; it’s an album that rewards listeners with a little more each time they decide to dedicate 75-minutes of their life putting the headphones on, and turning the volume way way up. It’s fun, it’s long, it’s chaotic, and at time’s it’s absolutely heart breaking, but without a doubt Arcade Fire have once again done what they do best: create a beautifully crafted album around a set of central ideas that not every listener will connect to. At least not at first glance, anyway.
By: Daniel Richtmyre