zondag 29 december 2013

Reflector. Arcade Fire

What drives a band when it releases its new album, the first minutes on end, near endless, is nothing but aural experiments, no song (structure) in sight/ear. Just sounds, completely treated in strange ways and played backwards. Cut up fragments. Is there anyone who really enjoys this "music"? Probably, but let me rephrase. That anyone who is an Arcade Fire fan, used to hearing songs, albeit sometimes heavily over the top, but songs none the same, enjoys this experiment? Is this what an Arcade Fire fan expects, even wants to hear? My best guess is: no. So why does a band start its new, much anticipated album this away? Even if the experiment is called 'Hidden track'. O.k., if it's a hidden track muffled away after a half an hour of silence, who cares?, as it is easy to switch off. So now I just skip this first song each time I put on Reflector.

Almost a decade ago I started listening to Arcade Fire. Debut album 'Funeral' was quite okay. Not top of the year material, but I played it regularly and thought that Arcade Fire was a band to follow and see where it would go. With 'Neon bible' the whole music review world started running with the band, while I only heard bombast beyond believing. There was no room in me for 'Neon bible'. The suburbs' did fare a little better, but not much. So with the release of album number 4 I was not exactly expecting very much. Promised unfulfilled, I had filed Arcade Fire away. And then I heard 'Hidden track' first. It nearly made me stop listening. I didn't though and little by little Reflector started to grow and grow. Reflector is like the cover. At first sight black and white and at second and third full of bright colours.

So we leave 'Hidden track' behind us, all 10.01 minutes of it. Here we are right in the middle of a disco beat, Giorgio Moroder style. Where's Donna Summer? After having overcome my surprise, I find that the title song, is a good one. Strong, driven and interesting. There's a lot going on in the background and music and singing have just the right balance. Enter Mr. Bowie, who joins a song that is not very much unlike his 'Fame' ("don't, don't, don't"!) and 'Golden years'. All 7.30 minutes are in the right place and not a second too short. As a reminder, we are 17.30 minutes in to Reflector and only two songs on the way. It shows that Arcade Fire is in for the real thing here. No holding back on anything. 'Reflector' is not an easy song, but Arcade Fire has lost its top heaviness that I disliked so much on all of 'Neon bible'. There is a certain looseness in the rhythm, in the synths that shows that we are allowed to have fun as well.

The fun continues with 'We exist'. The bass is straight out a disco song of the 70s that just keeps alluding me. There are playful 'na-na-na's', a piano part that gives 'We exist' this little extra and all the details flying about that spell "special". It was about this point in listening to Reflector that I knew it was time to start paying attention.

Diversity is a good way to describe the music on offer on Reflector. Arcade Fire is not afraid to experiment on this album or make a single instrument stand out in a song. An 80s synthpop organ is around on most songs. Long, thin sounds filling up parts of the background. Let me single out 'Here comes the night time', there is the sound of a child's' piano, muffled guitar notes creating a new wave atmosphere, the rhythm changes and at the end more exotic rhythm instruments are used as well. Changing the feel of the song each time. And next 'Normal person' is a quite punky song. With the electric guitar in the special role. Arcade Fire plays with the mind of the listener all the time. Never is something presented that one expects next. This way the band gives us a lot to discover. Reflector is a trip. An adventure with dips and heights. It is the last section that remain with me the most. Reflector seems to fulfill the promise 'Funeral' gave nine years ago (for me).

There are quite of few heavy songs to digest, like 'It's never over (Oh Orpheus)'. Arcade Fire is not sparing us for pop's sake. Attention is demanded and begotten through the quality of the songs. Reflector is just as ambivalent as the cover. Classic art with a modern art background and the playing with colours in a classic black and white world. The music does exactly the same. Reflector is in balance all the way.

With 'Supersymmetry' the circle with 'Hidden track' in mind is round. Reflector is a wonder of songs, song structures, singing and harmonies. Anyone who allows some disco in to his rock, likes a portion of mystique and adventure, better listen to Reflector. There is a lot to discover on the album. Arcade Fire goes from punk to disco within seconds and blends them in the next moment. Intriguing, fun, at times brilliant.


You can listen to 'Here comes the night time' here.

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