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Arcade Fire play fast and loose

“Reflektor”, a full-blooded new album from Arcade Fire

Hazel Sheffield | November/December 2013

It started with a mysterious symbol spelling "Reflektor", chalked onto pavements in cities around the world. Then a mural in downtown Manhattan signalled a date, 9/9, and a time, 9pm. At that moment, Arcade Fire launched their fourth album with a seven-minute single featuring backing vocals from David Bowie, production by James Murphy from LCD Soundsystem and two videos, including one that viewers can interact with using their phones to reflect light into the picture.

The fanfare is fitting for an album that turns out to be full-blooded and experimental. Its two sides slip between dark disco, full of honking sax and stabs of piano, and the more familiar heavy guitars, swirling feedback and doomy themes. It sounds both like Arcade Fire and like nothing they've ever done. "Here Comes the Night Time" and "Flashbulb Eyes" have a rhythmic looseness that comes of writing and recording in Jamaica and Haiti, where Régine Chassange, one half of the married couple at the heart of Arcade Fire, has roots. Haiti has always influenced them—there is a song named after it on their debut album—but now voodoo rhythms, as Chassange's husband Win Butler (above) calls them, permeate their sound. There are plans to take conga players on tour.

Butler’s temper once seemed liable to stall his band's progress, especially after a memorable incident when, in a fit of rage, he smashed a camera live on "Friday Night with Jonathan Ross". Here he seems more comfortable with superstardom and it benefits, like fancy album campaigns, famous friends and the licence to let songs run past seven minutes and albums well past the hour. A little trimming would have made "Reflektor" an easier listen, but its length lets in more light than Arcade Fire have allowed themselves before, including a soundbite of Jonathan Ross's voice from that fateful TV performance. That self-awareness is new. It signals a band reconciled with their demons and ready to push off into bold new territory. ~ HAZEL SHEFFIELD

Reflektor is released on Merge Records, Oct 29th (30th in North America)

 

ROCK AT A GLANCE

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (European tour, Oct 24th to Nov 29th). Deep voice, good suit, fearless lyrics, dodgy haircut: the simple ingredients that make up one of rock’s most authoritative performers. On his new album, "Push the Sky Away", he sings the blues with raw power.

Jake Bugg (album, Nov 18th). He's been touring ever since releasing a bravura debut album a year ago, yet somehow the kid from Nottingham has made a follow-up. It's produced by Rick Rubin, who is more used to coaxing magic out of veterans.

Vampire Weekend (European tour, Nov 7th-21st). As close as the 21st century gets to the great Talking Heads: bright young New York things, bursting with infectious rhythms.

Television (world tour, Oct 26th to Nov 19th). Tom Verlaine, now 63, still does it his way. These dates are mostly in Britain, where he performs "Marquee Moon" in full. ~ TIM DE LISLE

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