Is it all currently poles apart following The Suburbs for Arcade Fire? Was performing and then winning “Album of the Year” at the Grammys altering? Let’s look at the facts: a ridiculously astounding tour schedule, some time apart, some time travelling. Fresh inspirations arise through global sounds and somehow, a new recording space is available. And unlike a re-telling of Win Butler’s youth growing up (in stellar fashion mind you) Reflektor is the fruits of labor Arcade Fire was always capable of.
There’s going to be a clear divide in the way the band has ultimately presented Reflektor. Although they attempted to make a short album, they were left with something extremely long and the end result is a two-disc effort, splitting thirteen proper tracks. The first side taking the additional track as a closing, almost like a fanfare, segues into side B. Regardless of one’s personal opinion concerning length, there is no denying the pure heart and soul driven into Reflektor’s music. Songs like the aforementioned “Joan of Arc” begin and end with a rousing dash of sound – the middle chug is a terrifically, soul-inspired presentation of strut – and they always tend to channel everything from pop, to the Haitian music that inspired Butler.
One of the greatest traits of any Arcade Fire album are the massively sweeping and moving/poignant songs that provide mainstream impact but are still, superbly crafted for the passionately inclined (everyone.) “Reflektor” does just enough with its James Murphy production, in the way of titillating layers of sounds, an ascension of voices and soaring highs, before the band puts it all to rest. The loudness of the song at its peak, contrasted with the lilting hushes at its lowest, really showcases some utter skill – then there’s this synth that strikes through every now and then like a slinky caterpillar. The same way The Suburbs started with a declaration of vision of sound, and much how Funeral paraded on its opener, “Reflektor” (and in turn, Reflektor) is definitely, something we can dance to. With a huge wall of sound that cascades over everything, a blowing wind of voices and trembling keyboards, too, of course.
“Afterlife” follows a similar path, by way of originating methods but with alternative paths chosen. It has this sublime groove that never lets up, combining sudden dynamic and rhythm shifts with more and more layers of voices. In some ways the past albums the band had made were semi-concept albums in their tone but never in their entire mode and Reflektor takes the many ideas that were inside of Butler’s head and concentrates them onto a spectacular album. The band sounds strong when they embark on torching rockers like “Flashbulb Eyes” and they appear filled with tenacity. Murphy noted that ‘epic’ results were on the horizon from Arcade Fire when the band was creating their magnus opus and certainly, Reflektor does not fail. “Supersymmetry” captures what are perhaps the prettiest synthesizers of the whole album: a love song about real love and with music that flawlessly conveys it. Half of your body wants to just glide along to the heavenly voices, while the rest wants to shake to the beats.
The compelling parts of Reflektor are how the band take the raw emotion and drive they’ve gained from previous efforts to new, novel levels with alternate shades of color. The beautiful “Here Comes the Night Time II” is a short affair but it’s gorgeous in every possible way. There are also these interludes that appear mostly on the first half; whether they sound like a local playing the neighborly country bar on dollar-you-call-it, or what might be the Ed McMahon show, they are gifted and seamlessly rendered. Then on the second half, with“Porno,” with a delectable keyboard and those 80s style atmospheric tones, it might just be one of the best songs they’ve written. Subtle, gritty, determined, the way Butler’s voice sounds is just enough but all else, it’s really a special moment when you hear that the first time.
Arcade Fire has always tended to certain tried and true trademarks and Reflektor is chock-full of them: anthems to sing about, mesmerizing convictions of music and well, reflective lyrics about nothing more than life. I guess that’s all they’ve done as a band, for more than ten years: they’ve still found new ways to stun our ears in so many other ways. There’s no lack of stride here, in fact the entire scope of Reflektor and its magnificent way of sucking you into its entire ride is downright remarkable.