Tuesday Guest Blogger
"We Used to Wait" / Arcade Fire
Welcome all to the first post in a series by me, Hugh. I will be posting weekly in a similar fashion to my mom.
Ever since the release of Arcade Fire's first Arcade Fire EP in 2003, a dedicated fan base has grown up around them, always craving new songs. While their music has always been accessible, their trademark sound is not overly commercial, but dramatic baroque pop. Having gone platinum on their two previous LPs, the chances are that more platinum records will be won with their third studio album, The Suburbs, which is set to be released August 2nd. Perhaps they will finally win a Grammy award, having been nominated for both Funeral (2004) and Neon Bible (2007).
Until August, all we Arcade Fire fans have to satisfy our cravings is this new single, "We Used To Wait," which has just broken into the rotation on BBC radio. Of course, the minute it appeared it spread around the internet like crazy. At first "We Used to Wait" does not sound like a typical Arcade Fire song -- it's more stripped-down, with more dynamic changes. Singer Win Butler begins with piano chords that will make a shiver run up your spine. The use of a piano is a constant in Arcade Fire's music, so it seems that the band is easing the listener back into a familiar realm with the nuanced sound.
Drummer Jeremy Gara switches between stressing the off-beat and stressing the down-beat, which makes the meter one of the most exciting elements of the song. Yet unlike Band of Ruffians or Vampire Weekend, where the drumbeat is complex, the drums here are minimalist.
Then the full orchestration comes in, adding strings and guitars for an upbeat sound in contrast to the minor-key verse. Back-up singers join in, like a circle of friends supporting the singer. The effect is like sunshine breaking through the clouds. The guitars, which are generally not significant instruments on an Arcade Fire track, add embellishments that dance above the piano line. With a regular line-up of seven musicians, Arcade Fire can call upon many instruments to build up a dramatic, joyous sound. As a result, what began as a song of longing turns into a song of hope.
As always with Arcade Fire, the lyrics are crucial. In the verse, the key is minor and the lyrics are in the past tense, as Win Butler sings, "I used to write/I used to write letters, I used to sign my name/I used to sleep at night." But in the bridge the repeated phrase "We used to wait" implies both longing and yet a sense of progression. In the chorus, the lyrics take a turn towards levity, signifying a brighter future.
Being able to combine dark emotions with a pleasing sound is one of Arcade Fire's strengths. What makes this song distinctive is the dynamic change in mood between verse and chorus, a fuller exploration of their musical capabilities. Now I really can't wait to hear the new album, if their songwriting has taken another major step forward. I hope you enjoy this song and it makes you curious to listen to more of their music!