Sunday, December 22, 2013

My 2013 Top Ten Albums

Arcade Fire -- Reflektor

"Here Comes the Night Time"

Let's change things up.

It's probably true that I wouldn't even know about Arcade Fire if I didn't have a 20-something in my household, but I have to say, I dig these guys. With this new album they push their textural indie-rock into new jam-band and electronica territory and you know what? I like it.

So why not let your dance groove loose? I defy you to resist the rhythmic pull of this track.

Cacophonous, yes. Dissonant, yes. But it's all for a reason. "Here Comes The Night Time" is a cry of defiance, a big push-back against the "missionaries" and "preachers," the disapproving gatekeepers and door lockers and scolds who would like to dictate what is righteous and what is not. Arcade Fire front man Win Butler and his band (which includes his wife Regine Chassagne and brother Will Butler) are standing up for the free spirits, the questioners, the envelope-pushers.
So what is this "night time" that they embrace? It could be many things -- the darker side of human nature, countercultural lifestyles, or even, literally, nightlife and carousing -- but clearly they're welcoming it with joyous abandon. This isn't an angry song or a downer -- not with that beguiling slouchy beat -- and the verses are in a major key. That is, until the refrain, repeating "Here comes the night time" over and over, cycles through several different tonal moods, as if fighting through the preachers' locked gates and doors, busting at last into freedom.    
Arcade Fire is a big band -- six regular members,  all playing instruments -- and when they're supplemented by extra strings, horns, and percussion, they create a dense wall of sound. The sound is even further compressed in the studio, while electronic effects distance Win Butler's voice and lend shivery echoes to the backing vocals. But here and there, you hear various instruments break through the aural curtain -- a plinky piano riff here, a space-agey synthesizer there, a blurping tuba.  I feel like I'm listening to the future and past, locked in a duel. And the future's winning.
Religion generally gets a bad rap in rock music; when Win Butler sings, "If there's no music up in heaven, then what's it for?" he seems to forget centuries of theology in which angels are supposed to do nothing else but make celestial music. The heaven I plan to go to has tons of music. But then, the preachers who bug him are a particular joyless, censorious breed, as well as their non-ordained cronies in politics and the media. You can fill their names in the blank.
Win does have a point. "If there's no music in heaven, then what's it for? / When I hear the beat, the spirit's on me like a live wire / A thousand horses running wild in a city on fire / But it starts in your feet, then it goes to your head / And if you can't feel it, then the roots are dead." Amen to that! 

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