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Maybe This Christmas Tree
Unwritten Law "Here's to the Mourning"
Kreator "Enemy of God"
Isidore (Brash)
In Battle "Welcome to the Battlefield"
Far "Water & Solutions"
Kukl "The Eye," "Holidays in Europe"
The Arcade Fire "Funeral"
Macha "Forget Tomorrow"
Authority Zero "Andiamo"

 

The Arcade Fire "Funeral"

Having entered the age of nearly universal recycling of culture, and in growing comfortable with the understanding that there are few, if any, original ideas left in rock ‘n’ roll, I’m actually a little excited about the future. After spending the ‘90s voraciously eating up any jangly Midwestern band that could cram 12 tones into a single measure while pulling off the most indecipherable time signature, I eventually started to wonder where all the songwriting went. So, given that I haven’t heard anything particularly innovative in a long while, I’m happy to see that a lot of bands are starting to focus on craft again.

That said, I’m predicting that henceforth we’re going to be left with two kinds of bands: the retro specialists (ie. The Darkness) and those charged with appropriating any number of styles into something that, while doomed to sound old, may (with the right alchemy) end up sounding new.

Montreal’s The Arcade Fire fit into the latter category. The influences exhibited on Funeral are generally evident on the band’s sleeve, but the sheer number of them coexisting makes it difficult to categorize them. Not that this is a new phenomenon. The Flaming Lips have made a career out of an unidentifiable identity and The Cure, whom The Arcade Fire often resemble in mood as well as in singer Win Butler’s strained warble, were often deceptively diverse in style.

What’s exciting about The Arcade Fire is that, like those bands, they manage to carve out an identity despite the number of roads they travel. What’s even more exciting is that this is their first proper album. While it displays a Queen-like flair for theatric orchestration, most of Funeral is rooted in the oh-so-trendy early-‘80s, which they explore in a fashion similar to that of contemporaries The Standard.

In fact, The Standard is probably the closest yardstick for the album’s opening tracks, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and “Neighborhood #2 (Laika).” The former is a roomy James-like anthem, and the latter a bouncy number incorporating accordion and riot grrl yelps (courtesy of multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne). “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” (no, it’s the fourth track) may be the most compelling, alternating between tense verses peppered with xylophone and gorgeous, sprawling choruses layered with strings and guitar riffs adapted from The Cure repertoire.

Of course, a penchant for dramatic arrangements and eclectic tastes can lead to, well, Broadway. Funeral starts fishtailing in that direction on “Crown of Love,” a heavily orchestrated sock-hopper that inexplicably morphs into an ascending disco climax that runs uncomfortably close to Andrew Lloyd Webber. With “Wake Up,” a fairly typical Radiohead-style power ballad, it seems like the actors have left the stage, but four minutes in, here comes the sock-hop reprise!

Everything’s back on track with “Haiti” and closer “In the Backseat,” which feature Chassagne on lead vocals and most clearly and eloquently treat the album’s themes of death, birth, and general existentialism (Funeral is dedicated to the memory of no less than nine people, hence the title). Perhaps this is the best excuse for The Arcade Fire’s over-the-top theatrics. They manage to address this kind of early-life crisis with an urgency and sensitivity that, though sometimes verging on the melodramatic, makes Funeral a fine album and The Arcade Fire one of the more exciting new bands around.

   

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