Sound — 8
Arcade Fire formed in 2001, and released their debut full length album, "Funeral," in 2004. The success of their debut album, which was not released internationally until later in 2005, had them named in several top albums of the year lists. Since that time Arcade Fire has consistently charted well, been nominated for and received various awards and continued to consistently release albums. An interesting fact about the band is that while there have been a lot of lineup changes, several of the members are multi-instrumentalists playing such varied instruments as violin, cello, xylophone, harp, accordion and hurdy-gurdy to name just a few. "Reflektor" is the fourth studio album by the band, and takes a huge step into unexplored territory by introducing elements of rara into their music after a trip to Haiti. The album is a double album with a total of 13 tracks and a runtime of approximately 75 minutes. The album opens up with the title track "Reflektor," which is supposedly over 17 minutes long on the physical copy - on the digital copy of the album I was provided for review it is just a little over 7 minutes. Supposedly on the physical copy there is like 10 minutes of pregap track. They make some use of tribal drums on this track, and while Win Butler seems to be taking lead vocal duties on this one, Chassagne definitely has her fair share of vocals on this one - it is almost like they are singing back and forth with each other. The next track is "We Exist," which is like a ballad for outsiders with a bassline that kind of gets into your head. "Flashbulb Eyes" makes use of a LOT of processing, both with vocals as well as percussion. It actually works really well with this track, and with the lyrical theme of this song. "Here Comes the Night" has a really odd vibe to it, but after a few listens I really started to dig it. This is one of the tracks where the rara rhythms are more obvious, but mixed into Arcade Fire's sound it is something completely different. "Normal Person" is up next, and this is another ballad for the outsider. The vocals are mixed lower on this track than a lot of the rest of the album, but it has a lot of groove. "You Already Know" is the most Bowie-ish track on the album to me. It also incorporates some '50s or early '60s style guitar riffs and a walking bass line. "Joan of Arc" is up next, and outside of an intro that doesn't seem to quite fit with the rest of the song, it has a cool vibe to it - depending largely on an old school bass line and Chassagne's back-up vocals feeling very retro. "Here Comes the Night II" opens up the second half of this double album, and continues on the lyrical theme of the first "Here Comes the Night," but applies a different emotional perspective to it. "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" is another song with some of the heavier rara influences, and possibly my favorite track on the album solely based on its weirdness. "It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus)" is almost like a companion track to the "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)," but mixes in a lot of styles in the one track - reminding me of a lot of genres throughout the song, including doo-wop and funk. "Porno" is the next track, and this is another one of the better song (in my opinion) on the album. It has fingers snapping and what sounds like a sampled Jamaican drum being manipulated, and moves along with a slow groove. "Afterlife" has some of the most transparent rara influences, and is the type of track that builds up for a good portion of the track. Win's vocals on this track sound more honest to me than on some other tracks. The album closes out with "Supersymmetry," which is a slower track with a lot of keyboard-generated bass and tribal-sounding percussion going on. The track really drew me in going into the second half of it, and was a really awesome track to close the album out with.
Lyrics — 8
Win Butler is a founding member, and has been lead vocals and the primary songwriter since the band started as well as playing several instruments. His wife, Chassagne, sometimes performs lead vocals as well as backup vocals and being a multi-instrumentalist. Honestly, on "Reflektor" it sounds like they are co-lead singing on several songs. The vocals on the album are solid from start to finish, and vary considerably in execution to serve each song. You have to really give them credit for being versatile. They lyrics on the album, according to Win Butler, were based on both the 1959 film, "Black Orpheus," as well as an essay titled "The Present Age" that was written by Søren Kierkegaard in the 1800's. The lyrical themes are focused on isolation, death and alienation. As a sample of the lyrics, here are some from the track "We Exist": "Walking around head full of sound/ Acting like we don't exist/ Walk in a room stare out through you/ Talking like we don't exist/ But we exist/ Daddy it's true, I'm different from you/ But tell me why they treat me like this? / You turn away, what could I say/ Not the first betrayed by a kiss/ Maybe it's true/ They're staring at you/ When you walk in a room/ Turn on us fine/ Stare if you like/ Or just let us through/ Just let us through."
Overall Impression — 8
For an album that lasts 75 minutes, the album actually doesn't seem to take that long to listen to - and that is always a good sign with longer albums. While there seems to be more in the way of "dance" music on the album - which can't be helped mixing rara into their sound - it isn't like a lot of the empty dance music of modern times so much as it resembles music from a certain era in Bowie's career. I heard before listening that there was much more in the way of a dance music feel to the album than their previous releases, and I was expecting to be disappointed, but they managed to incorporate it in a very awesome way. "We Exist," "Here Comes the Night," "You Already Know" and "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" are my favorite tracks on the album. There weren't really any tracks I disliked on the album, which is quite an accomplishment on an indie-rock double album.