Arcade Fire’s double album Reflektor jolts between genres

Halfway through listening to Arcade Fire’s double album Reflektor, I wandered upon the fact that the album was co-produced by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame. And frankly, I was not surprised in the least. The album is Arcade Fire’s most danceable—well, the first half at least. But at no point is Reflecktor not definitive Arcade Fire; still there are Win Butler’s panting howl, Régine Chassagne’s French whispers, and the instrumental variety that you would expect from a band their size. Make no mistake, however, that Reflecktor is a indeed a radical sonic departure from the band’s first three albums.

One of the first things I noticed about the initial and title track was its electronic influences.  Win and Regine gasp over the top of the driving drums, bubbly synthsesizers, and bongos until powerful horns emerge. At this point in the song, the trumpets signal a style reminiscient of David Bowie and, lo and behold, the man himself comes in with his haunting vocals. Still, Bowie is a sidenote, and doesn’t lend anything special to an already special song. Following “Reflektor” is “We Exist,” which with its steady, driving bass line and heavily reverbed guitars is the kind of song you could strut down the street defiantly to. “You’re down on your knees/ Begging us please/  Praying that we don’t exist/ We exist!”

Practically every song on the first half of the album is worth noting. “Flashbulb Eyes” starts with a messy, almost industrial feel, but pulls back to distorted guitar riffs, and a creeping xylophone. “Here Comes the Night Time” is itself a song to behold for having such stylistic diversity within a single track. It begins with a distorted two chord synth verse peppered with muted guitar stumming (reminiscient of Indie darling Twin Shadow’s “Castles in the Snow”) and steel drums. Then the bridge makes a turn for minor-chord territory, before switching back and forth frantically. But the six-and-a-half minute song, isn’t nearly over. Out of nowhere is a coda of screaming guitars accompanied by Latin-inspired drums and horns. The song can’t seem to make up its mind and it’s for the best.

“Normal Person” is the weakest song on the first side, but is notable because of its Bob Segar-esque piano and howling riff-orientated chorus, much different than Arcade Fire’s normal formula (if in fact there is one). “You Already Know” is an upbeat selection with a walking bass line. Rounding out the first half is “Joan of Arc” which starts with the band trying their hand at hardcore punk. Think Win Butler impersonates Black Flag. And you know what, it sounds exactly how you would expect. But the song quickly descrends into a slower tempo and Butler regains his signature melancholy vocals.

For the most part, the second half of the album isn’t anything to write home to Canada about. The most interesting songs on it is “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” with a distinct soulful vibe, and “Supersymmetry,” the 11-minute epic, which descends into near-silence. The other tracks are unfortunartely bland blips on an otherwise marvelously diverse soundscape. Perhaps it’s because the first half of Reflecktor offers up such an interesting variety of sounds all under the umbrella of Arcade Fire’s established musical personality, that it makes the remainder of the album so monotonous. Simply,  the album would have been much stronger had it been a standard length album instead of the seventy-five behemoth that it is. Regardless, the first half of the album is so transcendantly good, that the album as a whole should be considered a tremendous piece of work. Let’s just say that if you don’t make it all the way through, I won’t tell anybody.

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