Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Arcade Fire Stays Serious to a Joyful Beat on 'Reflektor' ; Indie-Rock Band Upholds the Idea of an Album as a Statement on Big Issues

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Arcade Fire Stays Serious to a Joyful Beat on 'Reflektor' ; Indie-Rock Band Upholds the Idea of an Album as a Statement on Big Issues

Article excerpt

The indie-rock band's fourth album sways to Haitian-influenced dance rhythms, but its lyrics revolve around love, death and individuality.

The rollout for Arcade Fire's fourth studio album, "Reflektor," released on Tuesday, has been all about fun. On television and YouTube, the band introduced new songs wearing glittery mock-1970s costumes, sandwiched between comedy bits. Billed as the Reflektors, Arcade Fire has been staging pop-up shows that come on as dance parties, with the band performing onstage between disc jockey sets, while mirror balls gleam overhead. The initial musical impression of "Reflektor," the song that starts the album, is the happy thump of its disco beat.

In other words, Arcade Fire -- the indie-rock band that has reached arenas with ambitious songs and albums about mortality, community, memory and hope -- couldn't be proclaiming any more emphatically that, with this album, it's lightening up. But, really, is it?

Not exactly. Rhythmically and sonically, yes. On its first three albums, Arcade Fire placed its big thoughts in ringing, marchlike anthems, like "Wake Up" and "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)," that earned the admiration of elder practitioners like David Bowie (who sings a cameo in "Reflektor") and U2. But for many earnest rockers -- Mr. Bowie, U2 and Radiohead among them -- those marches can grow sodden, ponderous and all too predictable. That's when they look for a lift from dance music, as U2 did on "Achtung, Baby," and Mr. Bowie did on "Young Americans." Now, it's Arcade Fire's turn.

The band enlisted James Murphy alongside its longtime collaborator, Markus Dravs, to produce "Reflektor." Mr. Murphy, as both the leader of LCD Soundsystem and the co-founder of DFA Records, is a connoisseur and hybridizer of dance music -- particularly, but not exclusively, analog-era music from the late 1970s and early 1980s, when punk, disco, art-rock and pop were sharing concepts and dance floors.

It's probably Mr. Murphy who got the Latin percussion popping in the title track (and perhaps pushed it toward its seven-minute length, stretched out like a 12-inch disco remix); polished the Motown-style bass line and Roxy Music guitar jabs in "We Exist"; and overlaid the mechanized, asymmetrical syncopations of New Order into what might have been another march, "It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)."

Yet Arcade Fire also has its own rhythmic impetus: Haitian music. Win Butler, the band's lead singer, and his wife, Regine Chassagne - - whose parents are Haitian -- are Arcade Fire's main songwriters, and they have repeatedly visited the island, lately to aid relief efforts. Haitian rhythms have infused Arcade Fire songs from the beginning, but they're even stronger on "Reflektor," especially in "Here Comes the Night Time," which switches between the breakneck percussive rush of Haiti's rara carnival music and the swaying lilt of Haitian kompas, both repeatedly transformed by the production. …

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