Hassan Sayed ’15
Essential Tracks: Reflektor, Flashbulb Eyes, Here Comes the Night Time, Joan of Arc, Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice), It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus), Afterlife
Edsman Rating: A+
Arcade Fire has always had a knack for impressive musical artistry which they continuously reflected and built upon throughout their career. But with their latest album, Reflektor, the Canadian indie rock act completely transcends the boundaries of their previous works to craft an outstanding double album encompassing an enormous conglomeration of sonic bliss and depth spanning a whopping 75 minutes. And while, to some, an LP of this length might seem pretentious, the content of the album will destroy any pessimistic initial impressions of this artistic work.
The album is largely based upon the 1959 Brazilian film Black Orpheus, a retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus in the setting of the Brazilian holiday of Carnival. Specifically, many of the lyrics focus on themes of reminiscence, isolation, innate conflict and error, and separation.
The titular first track, “Reflektor,” begins with distorted synths intertwined with saxophones and the thuds of the drum set mixed with those of ethnic drums. Over the entire course of the seven minute track, the vocals focus on the call and response between singers Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, often with the former singing in English and the latter in French. The second song, “We Exist,” begins with a spiffy guitar riff quickly succeeded by a bass line somewhat reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean.” The song builds up throughout, introducing new sounds over the six minutes over which it plays out. “Flashbulb Eyes” is surprisingly just shy of three minutes in length, but still features catchy sounds and aggressive lyrics from Butler.
The 6:31 “Here Comes the Night Time” shifts between being extremely energetic and face paced and being slow and constant. However, even the slower portions still carry that same aura of energy, especially accentuated by the upbeat percussion that simply “chugs along” throughout. “Normal Person” and “You Already Know” are each modestly timed, classic Arcade Fire stadium rock tracks. The first disc of the album ends with “Joan of Arc,” featuring prominent French lyrics by Chassagne mixed with Butler’s mixed praise and criticism of faith in the unseen, told through the story of Joan of Arc.
While the first part of the double album is impressive in its own ways, it is the second half of the LP that truly blows away, beginning with “Here Comes the Night Time II,” which consists of layers of synth and string as Butler sings about the coming of the night; the piece just begs to be the opening track for the band’s upcoming “Reflektor” tour.
The direct analogies to Black Orpheus are heavily presented within the next few tracks. “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” which focuses on Orpheus calling out to Eurydice, begins with triplet drum strikes, which cause one to believe the song would be in 6/8 time signature. However, just a little while later, the rest of the percussion comes in 4/4; the contrast of the initial perception 6/8 with the latter 4/4 shows a sense of betrayal and deception and how Orpheus must avoid these thoughts to have faith that his beloved Eurydice will make it to the Overworld with him. Musically, the piece combines an impressive array of strings, guitars, and drums to create a complex and enjoyable soundscape. The track is subsequently followed by “It’s Never Over, (Oh Orpheus,” featuring heavy bass lines with interjecting brass and continuously changing drum patterns. Chassagne here takes the role of Eurdyice calling out to Orpheus, who is represented by Butler’s lyrics. The fourth song of the disc, “Porno,” Butler sings about the exploitation of modern love and society’s errors in this regard over impressive layers of pulsing and drawn out synths.
But the album reaches its climax with “Afterlife,” a six minute epic of existentialism that speaks of the end of days, of the aftermath of the catastrophe when all disaster is gone and done. Infused with heavy tribal drums, strings, distorted bass synths, brass, and the classic call and response of Butler and Chassagne, it creates an amazing sonic soundscape that is one of the highlights not just of Arcade Fire’s career but also of 21st century music. Ultimately it asks the question, “When the future is done, what will happen?” As the piece ends, the percussion creates the pattern of a heartbeat to give the impression of being on the verge of life and death, as Butler sings “Is this the afterlife?”
The final piece of the album, “Supersymmetry,” is sort of the “aftermath” of “Afterlife.” While “Afterlife” is the proper conclusion, this toned down, twelve minute track is just something special leftover that acts as the “icing on the cake.” The haunting hidden track at the end of it instills a sense of suspense and fear within the listener which complements the message of the previous track: “What happens afterwards?”
Especially in a land desolated by dull, repetitive, ill-intentioned, and simply unmusical pop, Reflektor shows that there is hope for music as a whole. The impressive soundscape it builds upon coupled with the lyrical themes of the work help to make it both a memorable and interpretative work. This is not a radio album, a collection of catchy singles meant to appeal to the masses. It is a true album, one with consistent themes that can only be truly appreciated when listened to completely in one sitting. As far as 21st century music is concerned, Reflektor is a masterpiece.