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Thursday, 31 October 2013 12:37

Album review: Arcade Fire baffles and bounces on 'Reflektor'

Album review: Arcade Fire baffles and bounces on 'Reflektor'
Written by Brian Benton
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When I think of my favorite Arcade Fire songs, with "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" and "Rebellion (Lies)" sitting at the top of the list, I find a common thread links them: compared to other Arcade Fire songs, they're the more danceable, more full cuts. I'm a sucker for synths, and Arcade Fire knows how to use them.

With "Reflektor" Arcade Fire has made an album mostly full of danceable songs, with sprawling disco beats and funky vocals, and while that should be heaven for me, I don't know if it is. Unlike Arcade Fire's three prior albums, a number of the songs on "Reflektor" sound similar, but at the same time, some sound incredibly out of place. The album is long (75-minutes split over two discs) -- including a 10-minute instrumental intermission of hissing electronics and sometimes, complete silence -- and also weird, drawing inspiration from everything from Haiti and Greek mythology to the band's own fame and how it took their soul. I don't understand a lot about "Reflektor," but because Arcade Fire made it, I know it is worth the effort to figure out.

With any Arcade Fire album, the genius does not come through during the first, second or even fifth listen. It took me a few months to fully comprehend and realize the magic of "The Suburbs." "Funeral," probably one of the best albums of the past decade, took even longer.

Some of the songs from "Reflektor" have been swimming around on the Internet for a while, and interestingly, those stuck out as the initial highlights. On its own, the opening title track, released as a single in early September, might be the best Arcade Fire single to date.

For seven and a half minutes, it twirls through a mist of horns and bongos, with shared vocals by Win Butler, mostly in English, Regine Chassagne, sometimes in French and backing vocals from David Bowie. As bizarre as the combination of Haitian and disco influence is, the song "Reflektor" also happens to be incredibly catchy, perhaps because it was produced by LCD Soundsystem founder James Murphy, who couldn't make a flat song if he tried.

"Afterlife," after my first dozen or so listens to "Reflektor," might be my favorite song. Although relatively plain at moments other than the chorus, the frequently repeated "Can we work it out? / Scream and shout, 'til we work it out" sounds glamorous and may be the most confident moment of singing from Butler on the album. "Afterlife" has also been out for a while though, and was premiered when Arcade Fire shimmied across the Saturday Night Live stage in early October. I can't help but wonder what influence that had on my liking it so much.

"Joan of Arc" features Chassagne's vocals over an almost Muse-like bass line. It will fit perfectly in the stadiums Arcade Fire will surely be playing on their upcoming tour, and like "Reflektor," really sticks with you, although this time because of the bass, not the beat. While most of the album sounds more disco-y than past Arcade Fire, "Normal Person" sounds like much more of a rock song. One of the shorter songs on the album, although still clocking in at 4:23, it is an earthquake to the rest of "Reflektor's" summer rains or tropical cyclones.

Most of the songs that don't stand out still have at least memorable moments, like the multiple layers of harmonies in "It's Never Over (Hey Orpheus)" or the catchy beat of track two, "We Exist," that unfortunately is overshadowed by the even catchier beat of "Reflektor" before it.

"Porno" is a strange one, and the snapping, pulsating synths and electric strings seem more appropriate for a New York club than an Arcade Fire album. Where James Murphy's magic-touch on the track "Reflektor" was just right, here he may have played with the dials a bit too much.

Right now, "Reflektor" simply seems like a solid, even good album. Not good as in "Album of the Year" good (like "The Suburbs"), but certainly worth a listen or 10. I know I'm not alone in bringing high expectatons to the album -- because Arcade Fire made it after all -- but even the best songs that stick with you the most fall off when you start to shimmy to the ones that follow.

If you've read a review of "Reflektor" that has a set final conclusion, that opinion is probably a lie, or will change in the very near future. I've read a handful of reviews that called the album fake and a few more that called it better than "Funeral," but for now, I am sticking with "good." Come back in a few weeks though, maybe then I'll know how I really feel about "Reflektor."

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