Setting flames to popular music since 2003, Arcade Fire has came close to transcending music before.
In promoting “Reflektor,” Arcade Fire played its fourth album’s songs in disguise and over an entire ‘50s movie about Brazilian Carnival. With such a diverse collection, doing any less would have crammed the tunes uncomfortably into the minds of listeners when they should be open for just about any interpretation.
All of “Reflektor” hits like its title track. With bilingual verses and a quick, disco-dotted refrain, the song seems to reach its peak three minutes in. But the saxophones and a David Bowie cameo filter between the guitar riff and driving drum kicks to push everything forward. The result is a seven-minute song with high levels of momentum.
Like listening to calypso while running a marathon on a course with diverse terrain, the album is long and includes just one consistency: an infusion of island music.
The Clash, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon all gravitated toward foreign sounds at definitive points in their careers. The Clash did so when following up one of the greatest albums in rock music, “London Calling.” Dylan’s “Desire,” released in 1976, came a decade after his best work and wasn’t considered great. The takeaway here is when arriving at make-or-break moments, these acts relied on the unknown to lift their music to different levels, and Arcade Fire is no different.
Unlike Dylan or The Clash’s efforts, Arcade Fire’s implementation of slaphappy bass and reggae-inspired synths isn’t forced. Tracks three and four, “Flashbulb Eyes” and “Here Comes the Night Time,” evoke the greatest dancehall themes and motifs. The album’s shortest song, “Flashbulb Eyes,” includes a horn section that acts as the mist over an eerie, ocean-side scape. A simple beat follows, and with manic guitar picking, the instrumental darts in so many directions all that’s constant are slow acoustic strums.
“Here Comes the Night Time” acts as the album’s focal point in more ways than one.
Streaming “Reflektor” over “Black Orpheus,” one of the aforementioned promotions, the songs fit the plot in such a strange way. At the beginning, the main actor and actress dodge each other and the expectations that come with their eminent love affair at great costs to their happiness. She sees him on the crowded, shoddy city streets and droops her head as if it’s a method of stunting her frantic heart. His eyebrows shift like his life goals and aspirations may if he pursues the relationship.
Stubborn sides prevail until “Here Comes the Night Time” plays and lifts the daunting expectations from both the characters and “Reflektor” as a whole. They dance, watch the sun’s reflection cast upon the ocean, and participate in Carnival’s frantic events until the surprising end. What follows the album’s most important song is a mesh of every creative turn Arcade Fire has taken since its debut a decade ago.
“Normal Person,” a sleazy, sinister rocker, reeks of T. Rex if frontman Marc Bolan regretted his every move. Both “Joan of Arc” and “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” include the balances of Radiohead-like experimentation and golden age rock elements that made “The Suburbs” a success. Fortunately, despite constant evolution, the band keeps its best qualities.
It’s closer to the album’s beginning—before “Here Comes the Night Time” even, when reggae beats alleviate all tension—that Butler utters these words on “We Exist”: “They’re walking around, head full of sound/acting like we don’t exist.” The listener will wonder who could foolishly question such a driving force of ‘00s popular music’s existence. Doing so is like imagining one of the lovers from “Black Orpheus” without the other.
It is Arcade Fire’s existence that has created more stellar music since its 2003 debut than any act but Kanye West. Technology crafted, comment section-discussed music and Arcade Fire have been intertwined like two souls meant to exist in the same realm for the longest time, and “Reflektor” only makes this bond stronger.
Final Rating: Four-and-a-half out of Five Suns