Posts Tagged ‘arcade fire’

First they built the road, then they built the town.

April 1, 2011 - 12:56 pm No Comments

By now you’ve probably heard of Arcade Fire.

I mean, they won Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards which is apparently still a thing that people watch.

Which brings me to my point.

Arcade Fire won the 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year.  I’m not going to downplay this because I have to say, that’s awesome.  Allow me to be completely selfish when I say that this means the music I listen to is now popular and that means I’m cool again and I didn’t even have to do anything.  (I am cool, right?  Then again, if you have to ask…).  But the album that won the Grammy was (obviously) their new album, The Suburbs.  If you haven’t heard it yet, go open your Grooveshark, play it, and come back.  Back?  Okay, now go listen to their first album, Funeral.  I’ll wait.

Funeral was Arcade Fire’s first real album (disregarding the “Us Kids Know” EP from 2003), which was released in 2004.  And it was magical.  MTV2 named it their Album of the Year way back then, and it won a lot of stuff and broke a lot of ground and was generally very well respected.

And no one heard about it.

Hell, I didn’t even hear about it until right around 2007, and the when the opening strains of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” hit me, I was sucked in.  My heart was ripped out of my chest.  I listened to it dozens of times in a row.  That was right before their second album, Neon Bible, was released, and the timing was perfect.  Soon enough, I was an Arcade Fire addict.  There was something so raw and powerful about those albums, more so with Funeral, but it wasn’t lost in the more polished Neon Bible.  They both meant something.  They didn’t have to grow on you, they were you.

The Suburbs is not that kind of album.

In fact, let me fess up right here: the first time I heard the album in its entirety, I was entirely unmoved and entirely disappointed.  In fact, I listened to it twice in a row, but for the exact opposite reason I put Funeral on repeat for the entire summer of 2007: I had completely zoned out and missed half the album.  It took me several minutes to even notice there was no music playing in my headphones anymore.  But the second time, the same thing happened.  Could this be the case, I thought?  I’d heard the single “We Used to Wait” on The Daily Show and had messed around with the totally engrossing interactive video for it and I’d loved it; how was it that the rest of the album could be so lacking?

And then I listened to it in the car.

This is not the kind of album you can listen to sitting still, staring out the window.  This is the kind of album you put on and turn up and roll down the windows and go for a long drive.  The lyrics reflect this, they’re almost about this, but that’s not even the point.  You have to be moving.  Get on a bus, ride your bike, go for a drive.  This album is too huge to listen to sitting still.  If you’re not moving, it won’t move you.  It’s like an experiment, or it feels like it to me.  It’s also completely back-loaded with the good stuff.  Sure, the first seven or so songs are by no means bad; they’re catchy, toe-tappy.  I’d go so far to say that “Rococco” is infectious and that the extra beats inserted into “Modern Man,” after it’s finished giving you a head trip, will make you want to take up the drums.  But it’s the second half of the album that has that magical, gut-twisting, tear-jerking Arcade Fire feel.  It’s hard to say where it starts, since all the songs are derived from three or four central themes and bleed into each other, but you’ll know it when you feel it.

That is why The Suburbs won Album of the Year.  Because unlike the longing, lonely, and yet somehow upbeat strains of melody in Funeral’s “Wake Up” or the crushing, solitary pipe-organ opening of Neon Bible’s “Intervention”, The Suburbs is not something you can put your finger on.  You almost can’t find a place to say, “This is my favorite part,” because there are no parts.  It’s just one massive creation.

It’s still not Funeral, it’s still not my favorite.  But I get it now.  It’s part of a story, a story that Arcade Fire started to tell us in 2001, that they’re still telling ten years later, of primal humanity and modernization, of finding light in dark places, of corruption and a salvation that we cannot find in things or institutions, but that we can only find in each other.

New to Arcade Fire?  Paperclippe recommends: “Crown of Love” from Funeral; “Intervention” from Neon Bible; “Sprawl II (Mountains beyond Mountains)” from The Suburbs.

Think you’ve maybe heard this band before?  You might have heard the re-recorded version of “Wake Up” in the movie adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are or heard Peter Gabriel’s cover of “My Body is a Cage” on a recent episode of House.  BBC’s Top Gear used “No Cars Go” as the montage for their introduction of the show’s tenth series, and oh yeah, they played at the 2011 Grammy Awards.