Album Review... Arcade Fire - Reflektor

Arcade Fire’s fourth long play ‘Reflektor’ faced an inevitable problem in removing itself from the long casting shadow of the insurmountable ‘The Suburbs’ that preceded it. The loosely termed Indie-Rock (more Baroque-Pop) band from Montreal, Canada, received critical acclaim after debut album ‘Funeral’, and much broader mainstream success after the release of their third album, which brought the hollowness of their first two records into a mix of well-balanced catchy numbers. So pressure was beyond question for both fans, and the band since the first word of the album. Reflektor takes the captivating memorable Rock & Roll that we heard the last time we picked up an Arcade Fire album, and stretches it apart into reverberant, and on average 5 and a half minute-long, soft-tempered, yet macabre pieces, drowned in aphotic dance rhythms, strangely laced with progressive riffs; once again boasting the unusual composition of the group.

Early release of title track, and album opener, sparked happiness in otherwise worrying fans; especially after a dubious response to the bizarre feature on SNL in late September. The dance number featuring a few lines from David Bowie, and even more in a second language un-familiar to most listeners, proved to be awe-inspiring to say the least. While paired vocals from husband and wife are central to the glittering ballad, Jeremy Gara’s drums are undoubtedly the glue that holds the track together, while, similarly to the rest of the album, carefully formed synth pads dance around the edge of the mix. This opener is certainly the defining track of the album, and although it’s length is questionable, David Bowie’s interference comes at a time when you might otherwise sense the songs excessiveness, and once you’re aware that he exists on the record, each minute builds in anticipation to his extremely brief feature.

Despite ‘We Exist’ borrowing it’s bassline from Billie Jean, this second track offers a forward-looking pop sound of its own. From a first listen there seems to be some form of quiet optimism from Win Butler, yet in the third verse any notion of self-knowledge dissipates (‘Will you watch me drown’) into an unbuttoned however unblemished mix. The vocals often disappear behind partial samples and obsessive synthesizers: a moment on the album where James Murphy’s involvement seems to be a great contribution.

Although neither characterising nor captivating, ‘Flashbulb Eyes’ breaks the sinister, almost broodiness of an album where the first two songs alone amount to almost quarter of an hour. This fast paced interlude is perfectly placed, without removing too much of that haunting feeling that has assembled so far. Something sounding close to a marimba keeps this short track bright on the lead up to ‘Here Comes The Night Time’: following it’s explosive opening seconds, there’s an unpredictable transformation into something that I can only relate to dub or reggae. The song has more bouncing energy than you’d expect from the Canadian 7-some, yet becomes slightly forgettable after it’s baffling 6 and a half minute length, removing any possibility of this song being the right choice for your Bahamas fishing holiday.

‘Normal Person’ features the same existential crises and self-evaluation as ‘We Exist’: ‘You know, I can’t tell if I’m a normal person’. Perhaps we gain insight into Butler’s personal introspection, yet it’s still handed to us with a taste of the other side of this album. ‘Joan of Arc’ finishes Disc 1, introduced by the clash of almost every instrument at hand, but it falls into a driving rhythm inescapably comparable to ‘Ready To Start’ from ‘The Suburbs’. The 30 second, near-silent, reverb leads smoothly into ‘Here Comes The Night Time II’, unless of course you’re listening via CD player or have been lucky enough to clinch a vinyl copy. The re-work of a previous song is commonplace on any Arcade Fire album, and is similar to what we’d normally find in these adaptations. But the next string of songs are what truly bring ‘Reflektor’ out of the shadow of it’s ancestor, and into, excuse this inexcusable pun, a ‘prism of light’: ‘Awful Sound’ features a psychedelic approach previously unseen from the band, despite the long misty tones of ‘Funeral’, it is far cleaner cut, and the classic tom production feels as though these short percussive beats have been lent by Kevin Parker. It’s Never Over’ drifts back to that pop/dance theme that is all over the album, and even thrown at us by the artwork: silver mist and reflective colour symbolize everything that this song has to offer. By the end of the two songs referencing Greek legend in typical mysterious style of the band, it feels as though the gap left, where the album falls down after the explosive ‘Normal Person’ has been paid for.

‘Afterlife’ looks to be the follow up of ‘Reflektor’ itself, and has the catchy vocal that every Arcade Fire fan truly desires, however this time it comes with something slightly different, as does the rest of the album, which is that ever present pensive atmosphere underlying every riff, drum-beat, chord progression and libretto.

Final song ‘Supersymmetry’ seems to be the closest we’ll come to an aural summary of the album, coming in two parts: the first half is a rehabilitation from the brain-wracking analysis and emotional odyssey of the album, while the second half leaves itself, and us, under a veil of motionless comfort.

Arcade Fire - Reflektor
Out of 10: 7.8/10

Written by - Laith Whitwham

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