Arcade Fire "Everything Now"

Arcade Fire was an unknown entity to most of the viewers of the 53rd Grammy Awards despite having released two earlier critically acclaimed albums. When they took the award for Album of the Year a common response was “who.” Not anymore. Everything Now is their third consecutive album to hit the top of the Billboard charts. Despite mainstream success the band refuses to follow a conventional career path. Although they picked up the tempo and employed pop and dance elements on 2013’s Reflektor, the band’s idiosyncratic tendency pulled songs in unpredictable directions.

Everything Now is a mish-mash of genres, tempos, and influences that send songs skittering off in jarring angles. Win Butler’s anxiety-inducing critiques of modern life are counterbalanced by catchy melodies and an excess of production. Sirens, series of handclaps, choruses of shrieking voices, drum machine, synthesizers, dance beats, and horns – it’s a lot to take in. There are three versions of the title track, including the pop single version that features the most traditional rock arrangement. The other two, that open and close the album, are slowed to an electronic crawl. They set the theme – society is overwhelmed by social media to such an extent that we barely live within our life. “Signs of Life” paints a portrait of kids disconnected from themselves and each other. “Creature Comforts” is a strange example of self-awareness in a song, as Butler references his own first album.

Doom and despair are not new subjects for the band. “Intervention” from The Neon Bible captured the experience of rising anxiety. There is no subtlety in these songs as Butler pummels you with his blunt assessment of how we live our lives. At times the music also feels like an assault with its dense beats, layer production, and ping-ponging influences. Ska rhythms and horns drive a couple of tunes, others sound like Giorgio Moroder soundtrack escapees. Regine Chassagne sounds as if she’s channeling Tina Weymouth, circa Tom Tom Club era on “Electric Blue.” I’m not sure if there is a happy place between idiosyncratic indie-rock and commercial dance and pop. Although the music is catchy, Win Butler does not create happy music.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)