Well, I can safely say that it has come down to this. From my view, the 2013 musical year is about to hit its climax with the biggest, most-anticipated, not to mention most-hyped and likely best-selling indie record to come out this year. Montreal’s Arcade Fire are about to release their fourth record, Reflektor this week. And for a lot of people, ever since the hype machine started with those mysterious Reflektor graffiti appearing back in late July up to the incredibly entertaining Saturday Night Live Special last month to the “secret” warehouse shows/ costume dance parties complete with papier-mâché head masks, the wait has been a long time coming. And you know what? In the midst of all the hype (and there were a lot!), Reflektor easily lives up to it and then some.
Reflektor marks a huge change to the identify and sound of Arcade Fire. Known for their self-serious personalities and an epic orchestral chamber sound that they popularized in the early aughts, Arcade Fire changed course from their usual MO and teamed with prominent beats-maker and LCD Soundsystem James Murphy to create Reflektor. And Murphy’s influence is immediate. Gone are the heavy and lush strings from the previous records. Instead there is a markedly strong retro 70s disco beat present. And it sounds fantastic. The new songs has also allowed Arcade Fire to let loose with their performance and even in their promotions. (That Saturday Night Live special had some hilarious moments with lead singer Win Butler). And the end result is a more free-flowing, way more fun, and eminently dance-worthy record. Who else among you saw this coming in 2004 after hearing Funeral?
What Arcade Fire still retains though is ambition. And like its predecessors, Reflektor has ambitions grand and aplenty. It is a double record (with most songs over six minutes) and each piece has its own thematic story. Disc 1 is just what I described above – the more immediate, rocking, and danceable disco Arcade Fire. Disc 2 is the more thoughtful side and addresses Reflektor‘s theme of identity (it is not an Arcade Fire record after all without a theme of some sort. Death, religion, and suburbia were addressed in previous records).
Side 2 is highlighted by the incredible two part suite – Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) and It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus). Large swaths of drone interlude clouds sections of side 2 and I won’t fault you if you think Arcade Fire should have done away with this second disc and just stick it with disco-mode. But I would I like to argue that side 2 actually allows the whole record to feel more complete and tell its story. The two discs are after all (here comes the theme) contrasting reflections of each other, masking and highlighting the other’s strengths. Plus, there are moments of pure beauty in side 2 that are greater than those in side 1. And when penultimate song Afterlife comes on, the feeling of bliss is palpable and akin to what most Arcade Fire fans feel when Sprawl II came on during The Suburbs.
So, in light of all these changes, is Reflektor one of Arcade Fire‘s best records? I say yes. I would consider it to be their second best record after Funeral (which is one of the best records ever of any band). I love, like really LOVE, this record a whole freaking lot. And I’m ecstatic with how it turned out, hype be darned. Reflektor, for me, is one of this year’s best record, if not the best.
Watch the video for first single and title track and dance your little heart out.
Arcade Fire – Reflektor comes out 10/29 via Merge (order here)