Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Finally, this last act hails from the mythical frozen land ancient legends say lies north of Minnesota…


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Madeleine Lee: Last Tuesday, I went to a rec room-sized salsa club in downtown Montreal to see a band billed on the poster as “The Reflektors” play an 8-song set. (As disguises go, this one rated about a beaglepuss.) The interior, with its mirrored walls and ceiling, neon tubing, and plastic palm fronds, was like a film set of 80s Miami (though probably actually from the 80s), and while sufficiently novel to my Mile End eyes, it seemed like nothing more than a generically unconventional setting, the least likely club they could find. Then I heard the music, and it came together: for “Reflektor,” too, is full of what some dude once called “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered 80s,” when electronics were for amplifiers and not behind the black mirrors of screens, and David Bowie’s voice was a thing in the air that could snag on your stomp. On paper, “Arcade Fire does disco” sounds like a terrible idea, especially once you’ve read the lyrics. But disco, like salsa or any dance music, is about bringing together people who are giving their all. The Arcade Fire give their all, as usual, but the focus is less on the message and more on the physical effect. You can’t sing “down, down, down” like that without conviction; you can’t do it with a straight face, either.
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Patrick St. Michel: Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem both roughly broke through at the same time, the two acts being reverse images. Arcade Fire were lauded for their emotional upfrontness, but behind all those dramatics were a band capable of a good groove, well before “Sprawl II” made everyone reach for the Blondie comparisons. James Murphy, meanwhile, made dance music underlined with moments of emotional nakedness. The two coming together for “Reflektor” is natural, as both entities represented the peaks of what most non-chart-ready pop sounded like in the Oughts. The result is, well, Arcade Fire bombast (horns! lyrics with a scowl! talk about technology! French!) mixed with a persistent dance vibe (that only seems noteworthy when it approaches acid — that’s Murphy leaving his imprint). It’s a good song, just ultimately one that seems like both sides playing to their strengths and not pushing themselves into any really intriguing territory.  
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Will Adams: It loses its luster after a few listens, but it’s still admirable for its scale and patience. James Murphy’s contribution is the clear highlight; what better way to air out Arcade Fire than with space synths and ricocheting echoes? This is everything I had hoped Random Access Memories would be.
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Alfred Soto: After scoring their greatest commercial triumph in 2010 and boring me to sleep one yawn at a time,  Le Feu D’Arcade flirt with disco, electronic manipulation, and lyric writing without Spellcheck. Credit too for using The Suburbs‘ “Sprawl” as a model. When the sax bleats and synth glaze and piano solo seriously fuck with Win and Régine’s equilibrium I remember the act I liked-not-loved in ’04 whose soundscapes were evocations not narratives. It’s still too long, though, and after the second listen the arrangement does its best to hide the decided non-funk.
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Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy: The Arcade Fire have always seemed a little club-footed to this listener, so hearing them have a bit of strut going on is one of life’s little surprises. They appear to be as pleasantly surprised by this development, hence the decision to stretch the groove out for seven minutes to incorporate spy-movie brass, French vocals and David Bowie. A lot of it works, some of it doesn’t stick in the mind for long, but you wouldn’t begrudge them sounding like they’re actually having fun.
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Jonathan Bogart: The hushed urgency of Win Butler’s gasped singing utterly fails to convince. Luckily, Régine Chassagne and a decent groove are there to prop him up, and eventually, along comes a man who knows how to make use of his limited instrument.
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Jer Fairall: The spaciousness, the relaxed groove and the itchy hesitation in Win Butler’s voice all suggest a band that has studied Talking Heads as a template for maturation, but The Suburbs found them sapped of most of the momentum that made Funeral and the best parts of Neon Bible so enthralling, and they show no sign of having regained it here. That Régine’s presence, something of an irritant early on, for many, remains the most interesting thing about the band post-Neon Bible is only explicable if viewed in terms of just how much perversity the band has willfully sacrificed in the interest of career longevity.
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Brad Shoup: While it may not be their doing, Arcade Fire has drawn power from the idea of importance, from that old notion that a musical act can define a generation. But generations are always much smaller than they appear in the critical mirror. With each communique telling us that golly, it’s a big ol’ world and it sure is hard growing up in these modern times, Arcade Fire keeps nailing the same particular target. The devoted read these existential shrugs as the affirmation of messy life, but in a textual landscape with characters forever peeking out of and ducking back into holes, where bombing is the general metaphor for unease, where The World presents us with a choice to be creative or work a job, it’s really the deathly embrace of solipsism. “Reflektor” offers another half-baked insight, this time about tech-mediated communication. To shake up his two shellshocked oracles, James Murphy dispatches midrange brass buzzes, radio tweak, and a watery highlife figure; the vocalists wave their metaphor and turn everything away. The appearance of professional glom David Bowie is the final gambit, but his existential cheek bows to the sour earnestness of his hosts. Now that they’re parents, I guess the internet is the new bad guy.
[5]

Iain Mew: “Reflektor” is a hugely impressive single. As blasts of brass shake it to the core, it brings back some of Funeral‘s daredevil momentum, the sense that the song is constantly on the verge of collapse but too important to stop, even as it is tightly funky. Its yearning for connection and imagery of an endless hall of mirrors in return, the switches between disappointment and anger, are vivid and powerful, even before adding the kingdoms of the living and dead lurking at the periphery. I can’t love “Reflektor” though, because it tries to turn its disconnection from a personal thing into a universal commentary on a “reflective age” staring at screens, and at the centre of its commentary is a fundamental mistake. Many of the most profound and rewarding connections in my life have been initiated through the internet, and I’ve felt the bleakness of a relationship formed online falling apart into the space between projections and reality. Either way, the internet was the means to an end and it was the human connection (or failure of it) that counted. Just because you can end up caught up in reflections doesn’t mean there was ever a reflector outside of your head, and to think otherwise is to fall into the basic technology thinkpiece error of placing all of the importance on the medium instead of what’s carried on it. Still, David Bowie!
[7]

Scott Mildenhall: It goes on a bit doesn’t it. Did they not think of the poor TV montage makers? Which part are they supposed to pick out for their trailers and compilations? The best bet would probably be the piano part that kicks in with two minutes to go, perfect for recapping some football match or other on Match Of The Day 2. It’s one of the dancier parts, and as is usually the case with “dance rock,” the best aspects are the dance ones; “Reflektor” is mostly fun, but has a lot to be shaved off — it’s not exactly “Mirrors.”
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Britt Alderfer: Forget Win Butler’s description of their current sound as a “mashup of Studio 54 and Haitian voodoo,” woof. It’s not so much voodoo as out-and-out cerebral unease, a breakdown on the movie screen. No one has been this cinematic since, well, David Bowie. The intro is a deliciously woozy slow-pan in on something unsettling; the song itself is a Maya Deren daymare glossed over (James Murphy’s production adds a sheen to this band different from anything we’ve heard from them before). Régine is singing about light and dark, the living and the dead in French. Bowie comes in at the end like some demigod, channeling thunder, clouds. You can see his lips curl in blessing. The gesture is moving but in the long run unnecessary. Arcade Fire are aching with their own myths, drawing from the most potent symbols of modern North American life (surburbia, churches) to craft narratives that deserves the epithet “epic music.” We are lucky to have them. I can’t stop thinking about the lyrics “Our song escapes on neon silver discs / Our love is plastic / We’ll break it to bits.”
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David Turner: The endless groove. The need to dance. The inner bone that makes one want to move was created with this song in the background. Or maybe better yet the foreground. The song was playing somewhere in the air when the first human started to move their feet and hips in rhythm. The joy of swinging. A sterile beauty is this song. It lacks the newness of 70s Disco. The grit of House and Techno. Or the Molly highs of EDM. But it has Funk. And dance. Praise Canada, the American that produced Canada’s “Get Lucky” which was done by French Robots and the Black Dorian Gray. Now let’s hope this get the perfect 4:02 second single mix it deserves. 
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5 Responses to “Arcade Fire – Reflektor”

  1. Hm. Didn’t know about the Bowie appearance.

  2. It’s one of those micronap-and-you’ll miss it things.

  3. Iain :’)

  4. yeah, i might call this song a micronap

  5. Thanks, Maddie!