Sound Alternatives

Article excerpt

DAVID BOWIE called them his favorite iPod download. U2 used their song "Wake Up" as the walk-on anthem for their last tour. Coldplay and David Byrne are unabashed fans. Not bad for a band that just debuted its second album.

As Neon Bible (Merge) proves, Arcade Fire is as complex as the veiled Christian messages in its music--and worthy of any adventurous listener's attention. The seven-piece band from Montreal, which includes front-man (and former religious studies major) Win Butler, his wife, Regine Chassagne, and his younger brother Will, recorded the album at a 19th-century red-brick church that the group bought and lived in for the project, And Neon Bible--from its title to its coda--appropriates and adorns itself in the sounds, symbols and subjects of Christian culture. In the hands of lesser artists, this would amount to titillation and contrivance. Here, the results thrill--and chill. The album presents theological and theatrical themes in shapes perhaps more befitting a funhouse than the Father's house. Yet the truth informing this jubilant mishmash of postpunk and symphonic sound ignites each song like a shaft of light.

Much of Neon Bible was cut live, with instrumentation that includes a 500-pipe organ, accordion, xylophone, hurdy-gurdy, violin and French horn. …