Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Strangely Ambivalent: Catching Up with Arcade Fire

Another band that folks might find it amazing I did not have any music by (until my quest to catch up with the oughts started) is Arcade Fire, who managed to snag two spots on Paste’s Best of the Decade list (and the band’s first full length album Funeral showed up on a lot of lists). Actually, I first started thinking I should get Funeral when it kept being raised in comparison to Hospice by The Antlers—which I guess right off suggests this isn’t quite what you would describe as happy music. In fact, this post was in danger of not happening until we got some cool, grey weather as Arcade Fire is no spring and summer band in my book.

That said, Funeral, which is the album I started with, doesn’t plow as deeply into the pain of loss as Hospice does and in many ways Arcade Fire seems more focused on healing, escape and catharsis. This is, of course, aided by the fact that there music has a driving sound that give you a sense of propelling forward—although their slower, quieter contemplative pieces on Funeral might be my favorite. The album captured my attention enough that I went ahead and also picked up Neon Bible, the band’s second album.

But here is the catch. After listening to both albums a lot over the last few months, I am surprisingly ambivalent about Arcade Fire.

For starters I do keep listening to them—first a lot, and now off and on. And I am generally engaged with both albums all the way through, although Neon Bible definitely has a couple clunkers on it for me and doesn’t hold up to Funeral overall. The songs are intricately put together with varying and interesting instrumentation, often layering instruments (particularly anything with strings) and melodies. They certainly don’t suffer from redundancy in style and sound, but they do hold together as all of a larger piece and ultimately they are full-blown rock tunes that at their core have a consistent pulsing to them. The lyrics have depth, sometimes looking inwardly in a soul-searching way and at other times looking outwardly in a social commentary way.

But perhaps it is just as College Roomy once said about why he didn’t connect with the Decemberists: “A bit too ornate” -- or perhaps too orchestrated, too cerebral, too well thought-out. Either that or perhaps a bit too much teen-like angst on Funeral and a bit too-much smart grad-school commentary on Neon Bible. Whatever it is, I am just not fully identifying with them.

And just as further evidence, I was listening to the albums again while writing this and feeling that perhaps I was being unfair as I heard songs I really liked and I was trying to figure out which ones to share here. But then it struck me that I could also pick out a few songs that would be evidence of the tracks I am less than moved by—and there you have it.

At the end of the day though, this blog is about sharing music I like, so here are three tunes I think exemplify the best of these album--although I am giving you the second album track first just because I like this order and hey, it’s my blog!

Keep the Car Running
Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)
Rebellion (Lies)

If you like these, here is their store where you can pick up these and other Arcade Fire. Now the question is whether or not to buy their upcoming release?


  1. Here are bands I listen to that are connected for me: Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio, Vampire Weekend. Whenever I hear one of these bands I say, hey, who's that? pick up the iPod, and say, oh! it's Arcade Fire/TV on the Radio/Vampire Weekend. But I like Vampire Weekend the best. Have you listened to them? I forget.

    I will probably get the new Arcade Fire. Have I mentioned that the new Rufus Wainwright is sublime? Have you started listening to Rufus? Have you? Get on that.

  2. Don't have Vampire Weekend (really can't get over the name).

    Alright, already with the RW rant. Where to start? You say the new one. Paste seems to suggest Want One, but Metacritic would lead me to Want Two or Poses. Where oh where to start oh wise RW promoter?

  3. Vampire Weekend is awesome. I kind of like the name. In fact, that name is growing on me as we speak.