When Arcade Fire released the first single off their new album, title track “Reflektor,” I had no idea how the remainder of the album would sound. “Reflektor” is like nothing they had ever released before and might be the biggest change in a band’s sound since Radiohead’s OK Computer. After a few live performances of some more new material, especially on SNL and their trippy 1:00 a.m. NBC concert special, it’s easy to see that “Reflektor” isn’t just some experiment – the entire album has this rhythm/dance/Haitian extravagance, held back slightly on “Normal Person,” “You Already Know,” and “Joan of Arc” and pushed full throttle on the title track, “Here Comes the Night Time,” and, well, basically every other song on the album.
It’s hard to imagine that the band who released Funeral with such songs as “Wake Up” and the “Neighborhood” series could transform into almost an entirely different band. But considering they’ve billed themselves live as The Reflektors, maybe that’s exactly what they set out to do. Lead singer Win Butler’s voice sounds considerably smoother and dancier as compared to their previous album The Suburbs, but maybe that’s just because it’s reflecting (sorry, had to do it) the much dancier music. Where as The Suburbs is Arcade Fire’s most straightforward rock ‘n roll oriented album (although containing its own unique depth), Reflektor is their most diversified, gathering influences from the likes of David Bowie (“Reflektor”), Michael Jackson (“We Exist”), and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy (“Porno”), who produced much of the album. So basically, if you brought the ’70s and ’80s to modern day, sent them on a trip to Haiti, and let them record an album together, you’d get Reflektor.
Even though the sound is different, the themes of Reflektor are much of the same that have run through their older material. Death, mortality, hope, family, and striving for more run rampant through the album, with “Afterlife” being the most existential with lyrics like, “Afterlife/I think I saw what happens next/Oh, it was just a glimpse of you/Like looking through a window or a shallow sea/Could you see me?” and “Oh, when love is gone/Where does it go?/And where do we go?” “Afterlife,” by the way, even with its electronic sonics, has that same yearning you can hear on Funeral‘s “Crown of Love” and Neon Bible‘s “Windowsill,” so it’s nice to see that their same heart is still there. They still care about what they sing. The standout theme of the album is, obviously, reflection and living in “the reflective age.” At its simplest core, Reflektor is about an old-fashioned heart living in the today’s age. Technology and modernity have complicated the way we live and what life should be about, most notably in the title track’s lyric, “We fell in love when I was nineteen/And now we’re staring at a screen.”
As mentioned earlier, this music is drastically different than Arcade Fire’s debut album, and each one in between has been a reaction to the one before it. If Arcade Fire are transforming at the rate they seem to be transforming, I’m excited to see just how far they can spread. Funeral is an album that screams indie-rock in your face, and it’s one of the first exposures I had to a genre that would come to shape my life. As much as it saddens me to see Arcade Fire leave much of that sound behind, I’m excited for the future and how Reflektor and beyond will shape my life to come. Reflektor is an excellent album; I just have to change the way I think about Arcade Fire to listen to it.
“Hidden Track”: B-
“We Exist”: A-
“Flashbulb Eyes”: B
“Here Comes the Night Time”: A
“Normal Person”: A
“You Already Know”: A-
“Joan of Arc”: B+
“Here Comes the Night Time II”: B
“Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”: B-
“It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”: B