Reflektor: Not Just a Reflection

Arcade Fire, VEVO

Chris Olszewski, Staff Reporter

The best song on Arcade Fire’s 2010 Grammy-award winning effort The Suburbs is arguably “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, an electronic, post-disco romp that, for all intents and purposes, ends the album. The Canadian indie rockers seem to have realized this, and enlisted LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy (along with The Suburbs producer Markus Dravs) to produce the album. The result, while not a total reinvention, a la Achtung-era U2, is instead a natural progression taking the band away from the anthemic rock of their previous three albums, and more towards a disco-esque, dance-ready sound.

Win Butler, Arcade Fire’s lead singer, stated in interviews that a large part of the album was inspired by his experiences in Haiti, which shows in the album’s music, punctuated by a drumming style similar to Haitian rara drumming,  most obviously on “Here Comes The Night Time”, which jumps frenetically between the rara-influenced drum fusillade to a slower beach-stroll, which, when combined with Butler’s lead vocals, from one of the first disc’s best tracks, and one of the album’s best overall tracks.

The album is split over two discs, and the two have their differences. The first (the lesser one, which is surprising considering how much I’m about to praise it), is filled with grounded beats, fantastic bass lines, not-too-heavy-handed lyrics, and some straight rock-n-roll, which Arcade Fire is really, really good at. This is also where some of the album’s highlights are, specifically “Reflektor”, the seven-minute opening track that explodes into a masterpiece halfway through with a bass drop that comes in like a hay maker; “Here Comes the Night Time”, with it’s aforementioned frenetic, abrupt switches between a leisurely walk on a beach and a race to get home in time before dark and start partying until sunrise, and also shares lyrical topics with Neon Bible; and “Joan of Arc”, a stomping ode to feminism that pulls a fast one on you with it’s punk-influenced, speedy intro.

The other songs on the first disc are, for the most part, great; the only real dud on the disc being the Clash-style reggae attempt “Flashbulb Eyes”. “Normal Person” is a driving, rollicking straight-up rock song that’s the band’s best attempt at that sort of song since “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”, with it’s wobbly, staccato piano intro, and the best guitar work on the album, which isn’t saying much as there isn’t a lot; “We Exist” has a fantastic bass line that takes cues from “Billie Jean”; and while “You Already Know” is somewhat of an acquired taste, it definitely grows on you quickly with it’s great bass line, twangy guitars, and sparkling chorus.

The second disc is far more airy, more electronically-influenced, and it’s the better disc for it. The final four-song stretch is the best stretch of that length the band has ever done, features their best music since Funeral. “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” is the second half of a mini-plot line involving the lovers of myth, and it uses distorted guitars, a repetitive bass line (which doesn’t means it’s bad, in fact it’s the exact opposite), and pounding drums to create a fantastic tune; “Porno” has a fantastic synth instrumental backing; “Afterlife” is the best song on the album, with a swirling vortex of synth, guitars, drums,  and vocals that come together to form six minutes of pure gold; and “Supersymmetry” has warm synths and great vocals to close out the album on a high, calm note after the brutal, amazing noise of the preceding trio of songs.

The other two songs on disc two, “Here Comes the Night Time II” and “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” are, compared to the quartet that follows, nothing special. “Here Comes the Night Time II” tries and fails to pull a “Is There Anybody Out There?” and ends up sounding repetitive, although it does have an interesting synth part to it; and “Awful Sound” takes the slower drumming pattern from “Here Comes the Night Time” and turns it into something truly heartbreaking.

Reflektor is definitely not what one would consider a “typical” Arcade Fire album. It’s extremely heavy on the synths; Jeremy Gara’s drumming is more prominent, and it’s fantastic; and it shies away from the more anthemic sound of their previous three studio albums. Some of the songs take a few listens, but they grow on you and reveal their true nature, and the album is definitely one of the better albums to come out this year. It probably won’t win Album of the Year at the Grammys, but if there’s one message the band is sending with the album, it’s that one Grammy ‘ll just have to do.

Highlights: “Reflektor”, “Here Comes the Night Time”, “Joan of Arc”, “Afterlife”