‘Reflekting’ on Development

Alex Burnham, Columnist

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Many fans recognize the sprawling title track from Arcade Fire’s fourth studio album “Reflektor,”  released Oct. 28. Nearly eight minutes of disco-noire, combined with intermittent French lyrics from Regine Chassagne’s frenzied voice, introduce the expansive, double-sided album. The song represents what the album attempts to do: comprise topics that are larger in scope than anything Arcade Fire has done before.

Even after winning a Grammy in 2011 for “The Suburbs,” contentment eludes members of the Montreal-based band. “Reflektor” is a continuation of an idea started three albums ago, and at the same time, marks a deviation from the teenage poetry heard on prior works. The baroque pop sounds much darker this time around, a combination of enhanced rhythm and a reduction of Chassagne’s jazzy singing.

Songs like “Here Comes the Night Time” have Win Butler singing about missionaries, questioning religiosity and the notion of a greater deity. “But you know where (heaven) is?” he sings. “It’s behind the gate, they won’t let you in.” “Reflektor” tackles prodigious questions like this while employing the plethora of instruments heard on every Arcade Fire album.

But the ethereal, disconnected second half of the album distinguishes itself from the other Arcade Fire projects. Subtle synthesizers and a heavy bass line steer “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” in the direction of a contemplative, cerebral ballad. The bass, reminiscent of “Madness” by Muse, shakes, wavers and wobbles in the background of Butler’s earnest singing.

The dubbing on “Porno” steadies the song, as Butler’s voice undergoes distortion, liquefying and crystallizing. A cascade of secondary sound disrupts the song at about the four-minute mark, shimmering beneath the surface. Chassagne’s choral voice intertwines with Butler’s toward the end of the song, creating a melody among the clipping rhythm.

The album concludes with “Supersymmetry,” a massive, 11-minute concoction of sound and lyricism. Gentle guitar picking and bongo drums mingle in the background; Chassagne and Butler harmonize once more.

Arcade Fire employs orchestral arpeggiation nearly halfway through the song, reminiscent of “Sleeping Lessons” by The Shins. By the seven-minute mark, “Supersymmetry” becomes a glitchy amalgamation of electronic sounds, buzzing and whirring with a guitar in the background. The soundboard evokes extraneous sounds from a space station. Everything devolves into a contortion of mashed acoustics, a contrast from the rest of the vaporous side B.

For its part, “Reflektor” captures Arcade Fire’s evolution as a band. This includes both growth and humility, success tempered by celestial uncertainty. None of the musicians or singers know the answer to bigger questions, but this doesn’t stop them from asking.

Email: afburnham@u.northwestern.edu

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