Arcade Fire "Reflektor"

Arcade Fire changes direction with a danceable album that matches rock and funk influences from the 1970s with a new interest in global music.

When the Canadian indie-rock band Arcade Fire won the Grammy Award for album of the year in 2011 it came as a shock for band members and for mainstream America. “Who?” was the prevailing response from the public. “Us?” was the response from the band. The Suburbs deserved the accolades. It is an incisive examination of social class and mores set to a rock anthem soundtrack. It would have been an easy choice for the band to rest on its laurels and repeat the pattern, but easy isn’t a word associated with these musicians.

For its follow-up Arcade Fire took influences as diverse as the film, Black Orpheus, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, rara rhythms, and 1970s rock and funk. Lead vocalist Win Butler and fellow band member and wife Regine Chassagne traveled to Haiti, the country of her family’s origin. Picking up on the sounds of their new surroundings, the pair began exploring Haiti’s  musical culture.  In a recent interview Butler reported, “Going to Haiti for the first time with Regine was the beginning of a major change in the way that I thought about the world.”

Reflektor “reflects” that thought process as Butler switches gear from heavy rock anthem to danceable tracks that often find synthesizer trumping guitar Haitian percussionists don’t override the band’s more traditional rock drumming style, but they do off-set it. “Flashbulb Lights” shimmers with island rhythms and marimba. “Here Comes the Nighttime” takes off at breakneck speed, then settles into a rara beat. Here the band lyrically picks up the flavor of the Haitian streets. “You Already Know” showcases the band’s signature sound while adding guitar riffs that could have been lifted from a Smiths’ recording.  “It’s Never Over” brings to mind mid-80s Cure. There are so many new elements woven into the mix that you might want to keep a score card near. Shreds of Stones-like funk, Talking Heads-esque production, and a good dose of glam rock, including the very Bowie-esque title track – which features the backing vocals of the White Duke, himself.

The band began recording the album in Louisiana, then later traveled to Jamaica and New York to complete the project. James Murphy, the force behind LCD Sound System, acts as producer. His hand in production can best be picked up on the dance-oriented tracks. Win Butler’s vocals still hold center stage but Chassagne is featured prominently throughout. Lyrically Butler continues to express tensions between competing aspects of life’s challenges and expectations.

Reflektor has already won comparisons to great albums including Radio Heads’ Ok Computer, Bowie’s Low, The Talking Heads’ Remain In Light, and the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street. Perhaps this album will become a reference point for future albums – ones that reflect a new musical categorization that I’ll call “Global Glam.”

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)