It’s been three long, painful years since Arcade Fire released an album. “The Suburbs” was released in 2010 to critical acclaim; the album won the lesser-known Canadian group a Grammy for Album of the Year and set a dauntingly high standard for the band. Die-hard fans had faith—they knew the new album would be just as bitchin’ as the last, if not more so. Praise to whatever gods may or may not exist (a question approached in the band’s new material), because Arcade Fire’s fourth album “Reflektor” is one of the best albums of 2013.
“Reflektor” comes in two parts. The first is incredibly upbeat and dancey with wild, unpredictable tempos and time changes. The second half is much more somber but musically superior; the songs are intricate and almost over-produced by James Murphy, formerly of LCD Soundsystem. But the execution works, solely because it’s consistent on the entire album. Every song has been drowned in thought and careful construction, the electronic texturing far more apparent on this album than previous works. Looking for music to get inside your brain, trip you out, and maybe bring you to tears? “Reflektor” is that music.
The first half of the album is rather poppy with rock inflections; songs like “Reflektor” and “We Exist” have insanely catchy bass grooves and fiercely delivered vocals. The lead guitar on tracks “Normal Person” and “You Already Know” is keening and demanding to be heard, very enjoyably so. Regine Chassagne and Win Butler are once again an impeccable vocal duo, delivering lyrics that delve into issues the band has previously approached and new topics as well.
“Flashbulb Eyes” is an interesting jam with Caribbean influences, thanks to the band spending a considerable amount of time in Haiti while writing the album. The lyrics, “Hit me with your flashbulb eyes / You know I’ve got nothin’ to hide,” are a stab at the notion that privacy no longer exists in today’s digital age. The song transitions smoothly into “Here Comes the Night Time,” another song containing Haitian rhythm and chaos. The song includes rapid, unexpected time changes that may catch you off guard but are absolutely delightful in delivery. The lyrics point out religious hypocrisy and exalt music as the universe’s true higher power, and we say “Amen” to that.
The first half of the album finishes with the rather angsty tune “Joan of Arc.” Chassagne’s backing vocals in this song are like a spider web, delicate but indestructible. The power that woman carries in her voice is staggering, and Arcade Fire knows exactly when to put it to use. The end of “Joan of Arc” is perhaps a little too long when it transitions into “Here Comes the Night Time II.”
Arcade Fire is a smidgen over-dramatic at points on the album. Long stretches of quietly detailed white noise appear several times, and BBC Host Jonathon Ross makes a cameo by introducing the band before “You Already Know.” It’s a bit silly and unnecessary; the listener already knows this is Arcade Fire playing, no announcement is necessary. There are hints of arrogance on the album, from the zealous overproduction to the tone in which Butler sings, and maybe the fame from that Grammy has gone to Arcade’s Fire head.
“Reflektor’s” best songs are a pair, “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus).” The songs use the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a metaphor for never giving up, no matter how shitty the odds. According to legend, Orpheus was an unbelievably talented musician who was so bummed when his wife Eurydice was killed by a snakebite that the gods were like “Alright man, you’re depressing everyone so just go down to the Underworld, grab your lady and have her follow you out. But don’t turn around and look at her following you, or else she’s gone forever.” Orpheus, however, is incapable of following a simple direction so he turns around and poof, Eurydice vanishes. She’s gone forever, and it’s a pretty sad story.
Arcade Fire tries to put a positive spin on the tale, using it to show that true love can overcome death. Granted, Orpheus screws up big time (really though, how pissed would you be if you were Eurydice?), and the lyrics “It’s never gonna happen now / We’ll figure it out somehow” acknowledge this. Orpheus will never get his woman back but, as Chassagne and Butler sing, “Seems like a big deal now / But you will get over / It’s never over,” there’s no harm in keeping a positive attitude. The songs are beautifully done and incredibly moving, the instrumentation seeming to know exactly how to trigger the waterworks.
The final tracks on “Reflektor” are as skillfully done as the rest of the album; “Porno” is especially fantastic. It’s not nearly as dirty as the title suggests, but the snapping and scat singing might make the listener feel a little scandalous.
“Reflektor” is nearly too good to put into words, too evocative to fully explain and so loaded with detail that every listen reveals another layer to the music. The lyrics are occasionally juvenile, but for the most part creatively and interestingly written. Those beautiful multi-instrumentalist sons of bitches have done it again. Arcade Fire has delivered a fantastic album and only raised the bar several more notches.
Speakeasy Rating: A-
Recommended Tracks: “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus),” “Porno,” “Here Comes the Night Time”