Another three years have passed and Arcade Fire have returned to bestow us with a work that is undeniably good, yet fundamentally frail. Drawing influences from a recent visit to Haiti by Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the first half of the ambitious double LP charms with its Rara and Twoubadou tinged excursions. These musical themes find themselves most evidently manifest in ‘Flashbulb Eyes’ and ‘Here Comes The Night Time’. The latter being an absolutely scintillating piece that stands above much of what the album has to offer. Not to say that the LP is a work replete of confidence. This double LP sees an Arcade Fire that, while maintaining the sound and sensibilities that established them, dare to experiment with genres and timbres that never seemed within their remit.
An undeniable contributing factor to the feeling of experimentation that this LP exudes is the inclusion of James Murphy as a producing credit. The former LCD Soundsystem front man makes his presence known immediately. The opening and eponymous track displays his euphoric penchant for measured and pulsating percussion. Congas and tom-toms push and pull around a velvety analog synthesizer and its accompaniment, the almost formulaically infectious alternating high-hat to kick drum strut. The piece expands and unfurls, culminating in several rapturous choruses that even see David Bowie make an appearance. The tangible presence of Murphy is felt on several other tracks and, perhaps due to my infatuation with LCD Soundsystem, I can’t help but find these tracks to be incredibly endearing. Something I was looking forward to with this LP was to see how longstanding Arcade Fire producer Markus Dravs would cope with Murphy chiming in on production duties. The results of the collaboration are anything but perfunctory, the two stalwarts bring out the best in each other all while managing to refrain from having every track sound overly grandiose. A perfect example of this would be the track ‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’. The piece moves with an alacritous purpose yet often gives way to rather majestic and sultry swells of poignant lyricism, eventually – and only temporarily – erupting into a fantastic percussive romp laced with call and response that finally subsides into Dravs beautifully doleful studio work.
The LP isn’t lacking in any “classic” Arcade Fire either. The oddly timed progressions and aptly placed key changes that made them famous are ever present in tracks such as ‘We Exist’, ‘Joan Of Arc’, and ‘Afterlife’. The latter being something that wouldn’t feel out of place on The Suburbs if it wasn’t for Murphy’s rhythmic placement. The voices on this track never lose purpose, the hook permeates throughout, the ceaseless minor theme never seems to leave regardless of the fact that the chorus often leaves us on a major key.
The flaw in the fundamentality of this double LP lies in the fact that it so blatantly presents itself as a double LP. Certain aspects of this work are entirely unnecessary. The almost achingly caustic wailing present on ‘Normal Person’ is wholly unappreciated. The introductory Rara track ‘Flashbulb Eyes’ is completely unwarranted, not to mention the two gratuitously purposeless near ambient tracks ‘Here Comes The Night Time II’ and ‘Superymmetry’. The band had been cited as saying their intentions for this album were to make it concise and forceful, I leave wishing such thinking was never abandoned.
Arcade Fire have constructed something that undeniably sees them at the acme of both their skill set and artistic importance, trying desperately to innovate and please. I feel that they have succeeded, not without any blemishes I should add, in remaining pivotal to the densely populated age of alternative music we inhabit.
Reflektor is released on the 28th of October on Merge