Let me start out by saying that this is one of the best albums of the year. Simple as that.
All the hype surrounding Reflektor prior to its release focused on it being an album chock-full of “danceable” tracks that would make Arcade Fire better suited for a club filled with disco balls and mini skirts rather than denim-clad, band T-shirt-wearing fans. It’s not. Instead, it’s a collection of artful tracks that take elements from genres like Disco, Caribbean music and even Hip Hop to help make the double LP a new “classic.”
The album starts with the title track and lead single, “Reflektor,” which packs dance-y production (those congas!), French lyrics and an awesome keyboard break into a 7 minute+ smash of a track. “We Exist” is basically a Disco track, right down to the impeccable bass line, the use of “na-na-nas” and the “overcoming” theme of its chorus’ lyrics. As an unapologetic fan of the Stones’ “Miss You” and KISS’ “I Was Made For Loving You” and “Shandi,” Arcade Fire’s Disco resurrection was an instant hit with me.
“Flashbulb Eyes” and “Here Comes The Night Time” are the two tracks on the album that show the most obvious traces of the Caribbean sound the band could have picked up during their time in Haiti. “Flashbulb…” is a bit darker in (the music’s) nature thanks to a heavier touch on Caribbean sounds and the lyrics about the feeling of constantly being followed by the eyes of cameras, keep it simple without sacrificing on substance. “Night Time” touches on the subject of Christian missionaries hitting the island to preach about God but, essentially, mostly warning the islanders that they need to buy into this set idea or else… Quite the heavy subject whose narrative is portrayed excellently by the music played in each section of the song. The steel drums on “… Night Time” is one of the best elements on the track, next to the line “if there’s no music up in heaven then what’s it for?” which is a great jab at “those” trying to tell islanders their traditions have no room in the teachings that are being brought before them. For anyone that comes from a culture that was “conquered” and consequently heavily influenced/modified by the Old World, this is powerful stuff! The “carnival” section added in the final quarter of the track gives it a new life, solidifying it as an epic tale of Caribbean folklore.
“Normal Person” starts with singer Win Butler saying “Do you like Rock & Roll music? ’cause I don’t know if I do” a perfect transition to a more traditional sound for the band with more emphasis on arena anthems heavy on catchy hooks and cool guitar parts. The song itself has a cool build with an anthemic chorus and screeching guitars, bringing to mind a Funeral sound but with a Jack White twist. Plus the theme of being different rather than “normal,” is the classic spirit of Rock & Roll. The following track, “Already Know” is also anthemic but with a slightly more danceable sound, almost like an outtake from The Suburbs, driven by a bass-line that instantly draws you in. Finishing off the first half of the album is “Joan Of Arc,” which starts with a Punk-y guitar part that leads in to the distortion-less riff. The buildup and the chorus bring to mind the AF we’re all familiar with (not to mention the verse in French), making this song about the French icon (and maybe even their own identity in the Rock world) an instant fan favorite for live shows to come.
The start of the second half of the album, “Here Comes The Night Time II,” is a somber track that feels a bit out of place compared to the rest of the album. It sounds nothing like the first “HCTNT,” similar to how “Sprawl I” was darker compared to how “Sprawl II” was a vibrant song ranking among The Suburbs’ best tracks. “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” quickly resonated with me thanks to its epic arrangement. The percussion in the beginning half of the song made it feel like something big was to come, and when Butler sings “it’s an awful sound,” the noise that begins playing sounds pretty bad but cool and mesmerizing. Once the chorus drops, you hear a perfectly simple acoustic riff and a David Bowie-like arrangement that will inspire many fans to raise their lighters and sway their hands from side to side no matter where they are.
“It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus),” the song that alludes to the album’s cover and tells the story of the Greek mythology figure sounds the most Electro-Pop than any other track on this album. While it’s a great re-telling of that myth and the music is well-crafted, it’s not a song that you wouldn’t skip if it came on your music player’s shuffle. “Porno” needed a couple of plays for me to fully appreciate it. The production seems very similar to Hip Hop tracks, making it easy to imagine a sample of the jangling guitars or the electric beat. This song will get stuck in your head for all the right reasons.
“Afterlife” is an excellent follow-up to “Porno,” thanks to that Electronic beat it boasts. The lyrics about life after death, or “death” of a relationship, excellently tells a dark story we can all relate to. I was getting used to hearing AF albums ending with songs featuring Régine Chassagne on lead vocals, so when “Supersymmetry” started playing and it turned out to be a dual performance of Chassagne and Butler, it almost felt like a bit of a let-down. The “electronically celestial” production floats nicely in your mind if you let yourself ignore the world around you and just focus on the sound flowing from your headphones.
Arcade Fire have followed up their (Grammy) Album of the Year-winning The Suburbs (2010) with another sonic masterpiece that will surely rank high amongst the best of their entire career (and that’s saying a lot). While it took me a number of spins from start to finish to actually “get it,” once it hit me, it instantly became one of my favorite releases of the entire year. In a day in age where it’s easy to just rip an album online, this is one that deserves a purchase. It doesn’t matter whether you get this on CD, digitally through iTunes/Amazon, or (if you’re a purist) spinning under a needle in the form of vinyl, as long as you get to hear Reflektor, you’re golden.
Key Tracks: “Reflektor,” “We Exist,” “Normal Person,” “You Already Know,” “Joan Of Arc,” “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” “Porno,” “Afterlife”