We all know that when life hands us our own personal piece of folklore we hold on to it. Tight. And when the opportunity presents itself, we share it. But like anything, some pieces we covet and protect more than others. Maybe it’s scoring a last minute ticket to a game seven. Maybe it’s sweet-talking your way back stage. Regardless, it is special. And in the moments when we are sharing stories around the campfire or when you’re pulled up at the bar, whatever the case, we need to let the world know. Others might try to one up you, or even worse, try to put down your coveted piece of cultural capital. Even then, you go on un-phased. Call it boasting or humble-braggery, but fuck it, this was your moment.
I don’t have many, but here’s one:
- I’m in 3rd year university
- An up-and-coming band landed a 5:30 pm Saturday evening gig
- Venue: a small Hamilton, Ontario, club, then called the Underground
- The band had to hurry to get off the stage, as the country-and-western night was eager to start their primetime showcase at 7
- The band played to roughly 60 people, who apparently had nothing better to do at 5:30 on a Saturday night
At the risk of being hyperbolic, the night I first truly experienced the Arcade Fire, changed everything I thought I knew about music. It makes my head hurt how great these guys are. How far these guys have come and where they continue to go. Their trajectory—quite simply—is not measurable. However, knowing everything we already do, here is what their latest offering could mean to, in case you weren’t listening.
3 points on Reflextor:
1. The album still holds many of the same themes [community, religion, status-quo, etc.] but lacks the usual common-themed thread throughout the album. This record is like their self-created playlist. It has all kinds of flavours, more so than ever.
2. Side A: plays exactly like you might expect of an A-Fire record, but like I said, no common thread, theme or tone. For instance:
- The title track “Reflektor” is a tour-de-force opener, with the ageless cred of Bowie giving the song that upper-cut TKO, “…down, down, down…Don’t mess around!”
- “Joan of Arc” is essentially a punk-rock anthem that quickly and seamlessly morphs into dark-pop gold
- Upon first listen “We Exist”, “Flashbulb Eyes”, and “You Already Know” are like nothing else we have ever heard them create, but the heavy bass lines, the variety of tones, dubs, twirls, and melodious catches and hooks all have you fully on-board by listens three and four. “Normal Person” is literally taking the piss with Winn inquiring from the outset whether or not “we like rock and roll”, because he is not sure if he does. Then they launch into a song that treads between BTO, classic Springsteen, with a 90s Smashing Pumpkins guitar riff thrown in, and it ALL works! Winn even thanks the crowd for coming out to have some fun afterwards.
- And then there’s “Here comes the Night Time”. With those Haitian inspired touches with drums and rhythm and those mind-fuck tempo changes; but most of all, the crescendos. This song—in and of itself—proves to me the band's constant growth. This song is essentially what Funeral established with songs like “Tunnels” and “Power Out”. The build, the break down, the ‘unexpected’ pulled off perfectly with bravado and passion. Only this time, the build, the bridge, the crescendo all turn this F-14 of a song into a fiery aircraft hurtling back to earth, where it somehow lands safely back where it started. Like any passenger in a free-fall, thinking that they are about to explode on impact, you’re left sitting there just trying to catch your breath, asking “what just happened?” as you somehow find yourself back on earth. But what makes this different from anything prior is that YOU are dancing, joyfully hopping around your goddamned living room dance floor. Fuck. Again the unexpected pulled off beyond belief
3. Side B: plays like the longest B-Side wet-dream that music nerds might have ever dreamed of. They average song length here is 6 minutes, by no means a pop-standard. This is where bands who don’t have the chops will lose their listeners [Coldplay we are looking squarely at you], but Arcade Fire's “B-Team” of songs is nothing short of a group of starting all-stars. Speaking of all stars, it doesn’t hurt that they have James Murphy consulting them through this. But before Reflektor turns the lights out, and just because they are Arcade Fire, because they can, they throw in “Afterlife”, easily one of their most affecting, beautiful songs to date. Name another band that can pull off such a sly, wonderful trick on the second last song of their 4th and most diverse record to date? Just try.
Now, lets take a minute to compare these 3 aforementioned points to The Guardians write-up on Reflektor and their frustration that just about every song is two minutes too long. Of course this is a knee-jerk reaction from many I’m sure, but as a listener looking back on 3 nearly flawless records [Funeral, Neon Bible, Suburbs], let me ask: don’t you want Arcade taking some risks? Keeping the tape rolling? Don’t these sound like stupid questions to even be asking? Didn’t the band employ the masterstroke of James Murphy for a reason? Murphy who has, time and again, taken what could be a dance-pop hit and let it ride for about 7 plus minutes? And didn’t we love it? No question. To those, I say, listen again.
One of the best lines of the expertly penned Pitchfork write-up on Reflektor [9.2, by the way] is that A-Fire are still essentially howling with the poetic fire of teenagers. I still remember seeing Win wandering around the venue before and after that fateful show I saw way back in ‘03. To say he was lanky and awkward back then is an understatement [please see his most recent dance moves]. He had an old Toy Machine skateboarding hoodie on. The hood popped tightly up. I suppose that my point with this comparison is that since seeing them on bigger and more elaborate stages throughout the world the most defining factor for me is this: THEY are essentially the same band from that tiny stage in Hamilton. They might not wear helmets anymore, and they might have way better stage organization [eg. not everyone running around insanely exchanging fiddles and accordions], and they don’t dress like Mennonites going to a wake, but most of all, they still have not reinvented themselves. They still have the same battery powering them. The same drive. Only thing is, they are just getting tighter and tighter. Bigger and brighter. That’s what Reflektor has proved. They are taking—much deserved—liberties with their skills, but still showing that they can make vintage Arcade Fire songs, only [somehow] better. From a small stage on a Saturday afternoon to headlining the biggest festivals and arenas, they keep maturing. Which is pretty impressive considering that they are essentially still a bunch of teenagers, who are seemingly, just starting to find their fun. With that, there are still a lot of folklore and fireside tales left to be shared.