Arcade Fire (Merge Records, 2013)
What do you do after you’ve splashed onto the music scene with a monumental indie-rock sound that sparked boisterous adulation? What do you do after you make an artsy rock album that beats out numerous popular acts to win the Grammy award for album of the year? You go to Haiti and make an avant-garde electronic dance album, of course.
Arcade Fire, that large ensemble of musicians from Montreal centered on the creative union of Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, have taken a step into the unknown with their new album, Reflektor. They have mixed some of their anthemic rock and raw sound with Caribbean rhythms, keyboards, and snappy up-front bass.
Songs like the infectious reggae-influenced “Flashbulb Eyes” prove the merits to this new endeavor. Ballads like “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” show that the band can successfully blend experimentation with amazing songwriting as the Beatles once did. And when Butler and Chassagne’s voices gently blend into a moving crescendo, you can almost hear the stadium crowd joyously singing along.
The wide diversity of ideas and influences on this album can become confusing. This is the case with the numerous references to religion. The mix of French and English with differing styles of music, cultural contexts, and enigmatic lyrics make the references to these subjects difficult to situate. However, songs like “Normal Person” and “We Exist” powerfully evoke experiences of marginalization, whether in post-colonial contexts like Haiti, or in suburban youth culture.
From a Catholic perspective, the realization that Jesus aligned himself with the marginalized will add theological weight to these songs. Whatever its limitations, Reflektor definitely has its worth, and it raises the question: What’s next for Arcade Fire?
This article appeared in the February 2014 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 79, No. 2, page 50).