When everyone seems to be talking about a band, I usually feel a bit wary. Even yesterday as I was driving home, my local public alt-music station KEXP claimed that The Arcade Fire’s debut CD was “one of the best albums of the year.” Well, like I said, I usually feel wary. But in the case of The Arcade Fire, I can only say that I totally agree.
I knew I was in trouble when the usually fun job of picking three songs to post on this page became an internal wrestling match. How could I not include the subtly psychedelic “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”? Shouldn’t readers get a chance to sample the purity of “In the Backseat” with Régine Chassagne’s almost painfully sweet vocals? Honestly, it was like a one-person WWF match in my living room.
So, yes, “Funeral” is that good. The Arcade Fire is a special band. There are 15 musicians listed as contributors and instruments include violins, cello, accordion, xylophone and even a recorder. Yes, there’s guitar, bass and drums, but the additional instrumentation adds a fullness to the album, so that you almost seem to enter the music instead of just listening to it.
Married couple Win Butler and Régine Chassagne provide vocals for the band. In some places Butler’s voice reminded me of David Byrne, in others he almost seemed to sound like a very early David Bowie. Hell, it’s easy to imagine Roy Orbison singing “Crown of Love,” an old-fashioned-sounding ballad about love and guilt that crescendos with the lines: “You gotta be the one, you gotta be the way, your name is the only word that I can say.” And just when you’ve come to accept this song as a ballad, it surprises you by changing pace and making you want to get up and dance.
Chassagne and Butler both have a pure quality to their singing, a sincerity — and this extends to the band’s songs as a whole. You get the feeling that they really mean what they’re singing — there are no ironic, supercool stances to be found here. And though that may bring the term “emo” floating up into your brain, no, that description doesn’t really fit either. The Arcade Fire is about passion, even in terms of loss — the album was conceived after the deaths of three of the band's close relatives. But this band is not about the usual pedantic angst.
It’s hard to listen to a song like the oddly choral “Wake Up” without feeling drawn into the strange hopefulness that comes from actually recognizing the mess we find ourselves in: “We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms turning things to rust. I guess we’ll just have to adjust.” In fact, “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out),” is one of the first songs to really capture the feeling that most of us sad Blue Staters are having just about now: “And there’s something wrong in the heart of man, take it from your heart, put it in your hand! Where’d you go!”
So, yes, count me among those currently fawning over The Arcade Fire. I feel like such a joiner. But when the music is this good, sometimes you just have to join the dance.
For more information about The Arcade Fire, visit http://www.arcadefire.com/.