A 2010 review of Arcade Fire


For a lot of people, writing is a form of catharsis.  Putting everything out there in a way that is painful, but ultimately somehow cleansing.  I was going to write a post about Arcade Fire, because this week I am living my 2007 dream of seeing them live (for £2.50: hello), but every now and again I end up introspectively contemplating the purpose and nature of music-writing.  I think it is fair to say that, amongst my friends at least, the main reason to read Don’t Watch Me Dancing is to find something to mock me about – which is pretty fair given that I’m pretentious enough to put my gushing, sycophantic views on music on the internet.  So here, in the spirit of catharsis, is my unedited, undeniably cheesy 2010 review of ‘The Suburbs’ and, for all I am embarrassed reading it now, in fairness it is not really that far removed from how I write four years later (if with significantly less lyrical discussion than is my current norm), and pretty accurately surmises my love of Arcade Fire.  Still cringe-y though:

“It sounds a bit weird maybe, but I’ve always felt a closeness with Arcade Fire – I say ‘always’; I actually got onto them circa the release of second album ‘Neon Bible’, and even then entirely randomly. I bought the album having heard absolutely nothing from the band before; I was ordering another album – I think it may have been the latest Modest Mouse – and the website I was on recommended some random group called Arcade Fire’s then-new album. I took a chance – why, I’m really not sure – and it’s something I’ve been immensely grateful for ever since.

‘Neon Bible’ was an epic; swirling cacophonous noise pouring out of a church organ brought you down to depressing depths, contrasting with the majestic uplifting power of orchestral melodies – you have to understand, I’m a flute player, and finding a band that can make your geeky woodwind instrument seem credible is quite something. And it wasn’t all intricate yet distorted baroque grandeur either, as you’d suddenly find yourself in the stripped-down company of merely acoustic guitars and vocals, a beautiful juxtaposition to the fullness of the sound on other tracks. Truth be told, I barely listened to the Modest Mouse album, such was my newfound rapture with Arcade Fire, this wonderful band who made music unlike anything I’d ever heard.
I eagerly sought out their debut ‘Funeral’ next, and was not disappointed – the woeful charm of the album was undeniable, and I found I loved it just as much as ‘Neon Bible’, if for different reasons – musically at least, it was certainly a less weighty affair than their second album. The band have described their musical aspiration as wanting to bring medieval music to the Pixies, and crazy as that might seem if you’re trying to imagine what that might sound like, that really does just sum them up; they have mastered that epic fusion of new and old, and have managed it incredibly.

So, two wonderful – somber now and then, yes, but wonderful nonetheless – albums in, and here we are now with their third offering, ‘The Suburbs’; I’m not going to lie, I thought I would be disappointed, but once again this band who, for me, came out of nowhere, have left me pleasantly surprised. Once again we find ourselves greeted by darkness, but as ever with Arcade Fire, there is a crack of light – perhaps even more so than on either of their previous albums – that diffuses through the album and somehow makes listening to an album about suburban doom and gloom a relatively enjoyable experience. As well as the expected incredible mix of guitar rock and classical music, the album sees forays into weird and wonderful M83-style dazzling synths, as well as creepy and dissonant distortion. Amazing.
Time and more listening will tell if the album will achieve for me the heights of bittersweet beauty, ‘Funeral’, or the abundant allure of ‘Neon Bible’, but having listened to it as a whole a couple times now, it is thus far an amazing follow-up. Even disregarding their previous efforts this album is something to be proud of, a fantastic listen in it’s own right. Arcade Fire seem to be one of the few bands out there who know exactly how best to exploit their sound, and it seems that album after album they will continue to achieve something that sounds fresh and new, yet somehow just as sublime as before.”
I suspect finally seeing one of my favourite contemporary bands live will give some affirmation as regards music-writing, anyway.  I am very, very excited, and I guess that enthusiasm is probably about as much purpose as I need for writing all my overblown gushing about music.

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