Before their performance tomorrow at Mansfield, Massachussets’ Xfinity Center (expect a review), I decided to re-listen to the songs of Arcade Fire, Montreal’s indie-rock kings. The band began in 2001, when frontman Win Butler met singer Reigne Chassagne (they married two years later). After a self-titled EP, the band signed with indie label Merge Records, home to Spoon, Neutral Milk Hotel, and The Magnetic Fields, among others. Then, in 2004, the now five-piece group released Funeral, the indie-rock milestone that earned them rave reviews, landed them a spot on U2’s tour, and became Merge’s highest selling album to date. Their 2007 follow-up, Neon Bible, went darker and deeper but got less favorable reviews. It was The Suburbs (2011), however, that broke them out of the indie niche, with a Best Album of the Year Grammy win. Last fall, they released Reflektor which introduced Haitian rhythms and a disco vibe to their sound, while dividing critics. Despite their considerable fame, Arcade Fire hasn’t become a household name. That shouldn’t stop you from discovering (or re-re-discovering) the band with my ranking of their ten best songs. (http://open.spotify.com/user/1212788979/playlist/5Ap1W56Y3U9nEZN4rYcW2e)
10. “Awful Sound” (Oh Eurydice) – Reflektor (2014) Not perfect by any means, but the easiest way to define Reflektor’s out-there ambitions and frustrating, thrilling experimental nature. Your mind will be spinning as the low-key opening morphs into a electronic build-up that climaxes in a spacey drum fill that segways into a 70’s rock chorus.
9. “Crown of Love” – Funeral (2004) A rare moment of down-tempo quietness on an album full of sweeping anthems. Naturally, things get faster and louder as the song goes on. Most notable, however, for it’s use of classical strings, not something commonly associated with indie-rock.
8. “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” – Funeral (2004) Sped-up, marked by Win Butler’s magnificent vocals, and filled with layer after layer of instruments, this is the sound of a band only just getting started.
7. “My Body Is a Cage” – Neon Bible (2007) Neon Bible is easily the band’s weakest effort, which shows them a little puzzled after breakthrough success. That’s not to say it doesn’t include some great songs, notably this haunting piece of warped, sparse pop and genuine sadness.
6. “Month of May” – The Suburbs (2011) Fuzzy noise clogs the speakers, until Win Butler’s chants “1, 2, 3, 4”. And then the band launches into four minutes of rambunctious punk energy that’s reminiscent of early-Ramones filtered through Arcade Fire’s own majestic darkness. Turn up the volume and enjoy that electrifying guitar line.
5. “Relektor” – Reflektor (2013) As I said in my review of the album: “7 and a half minutes of thrilling, weird, danceable indie-rock. It’s avant-garde yet pop, nostalgic yet boundary-pushing, serene yet epic.”
4. “Deep Blue” – The Suburbs (2011) If you’ve seen Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, you might recognize this one from being played over the film’s credits. This melancholy piano-driven track is subtly magnificent, making it a perfect fit for Linklater’s film and everyday listening.
3. “Here Comes The Night Time” – Reflektor (2013) On Reflektor, Arcade Fire used Haitian sounds to create a danceable, primal feel. That’s epitomized on this epic shape-shifter of a song that changes tempo and introduces new instruments throughout it’s 6 minute-plus running time.
2. “The Suburbs” – The Suburbs (2011) Arcade Fire’s most accomplished, complete, and satisfying album peaks with it’s first song, the piano-based title track. On first listen, it seems out of place in the band’s catalog (a ballad with a shuffle beat?). Turns out thats what makes this nostalgic reflection on growing up in a war-torn neighborhood such a wonderful listen. It’s fresh, it’s melancholic, it’s catchy, and it encourages repeat listens (or, in my case, lots of repeat listens).
1. “Wake Up” – Funeral (2004) If you’ve heard any Arcade Fire songs, you’ve heard this one. Hummable, beautiful, and exhilarating, this grand sing-along defines “anthemic” with it’s shouty vocals, extravagant instrumentation, and magnificent chorus. That opening guitar riff made it clear these indie upstarts were destined for the arenas.