01 November 2013

ROTKELFER: Reflecting on Reflektor by Arcade Fire

Is Arcade Fire the U2 of our generation?

That's a question that keeps popping into my head. It's a question that is a testament to U2's impact on music in spite of the fact that their act has grown tired in recent years and has threatened to tarnish their generally sterling reputation. It's a question that is also a testament to the growing impact of Arcade Fire.

The other question is how committed is Arcade Fire to the so-called concept of reflection in an album titled Reflektor? Especially with songs like "Supersymmetry," "Reflektor," and "Here Comes The Night Time" part I and II in a sprawling double album that is frustratingly asymmetrical for someone with a mild-to-moderate case of OCD: Disc 1 has seven tracks and disc 2 only has six tracks.

Reflektor was only released on October 28, 2013 (only a few days ago at the time of this post) so there has hardly been enough time to truly digest seventy-five minutes of music with an average of about six minutes per track. I've hardly had time to digest the album musically let alone lyrically (which, on the surface, seems to be strong). And aside from the title track "Reflektor" there is some difficulty finding another clear "radio-friendly" single, though, don't get me wrong, some of Arcade Fire's best work resides on this album.

So keeping that in mind, let's start with the second question first: How committed is Arcade Fire to the idea of reflection?

I'm positive that I'm reading far too much into the idea of reflection. In the way Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles wasn't as much of a "concept album" as many claim it to be, Reflektor likely isn't as committed to the idea of reflection as I hope it is or will be.

But it's a fun discussion, no? (If it's not, well, frankly, this blog won't be for you. If you do think it's fun, read on!)

I have taken Reflektor and did a mirror-image, if you will, of the track listing (i.e. last track first, first track last) and gathered the "reflection" of this album into a Spotify playlist I call: Rotkelfer.

Honestly, the resulting experience isn't that much different which lends a bit of credence to my theory that one can "reflect" this album and it'll still be just as good. The one hurdle is getting started: The 11-plus minute "Supersymmetry" leads off my reorganized version of the album and it's a slog to get through the ambient bits in the last part of the song, however, the benefit is you're almost forced to listen (and appreciate!) the entire track before getting to the next track. Let's face it, more often than not, you're not going to go through all 11 minutes and 17 seconds of "Supersymmetry" after listening through the entire album in proper order.

I haven't really listened to both Reflektor and Rotkelfer enough to really determine which I like better. But I can say in my initial listens through my reflected version of Reflektor, it's a similar vibe and experience in listening to the album the way Arcade Fire intended. (Possibly to their chagrin but more on that later).

One interesting revelation in this project is where "Normal Person" now falls in the album. In my version of Reflektor, "Normal Person" now becomes the ninth track of the "album." And "Normal Person" opens with a spoken word part where someone (Win Butler, I think) says at one point, "Thank you guys so much for coming out" and then when the song starts, Win Butler sighs and asks, "Do you like rock and roll music? / 'cause I don't know if I do." A very interesting statement after working through eight tracks that certainly bare the hallmarks of producer James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame. Somewhat ironically, "Normal Person" is one of the more guitar-heavy songs.

And I have to say that "Reflektor" as the closing song - with the background vocal assist from David Bowie - is a pretty incredible closer to my Rotkelfer album. Listening to "Reflektor" at the close of this reflected album is like a musical orgasm after working through nearly 68 minutes of musical foreplay.

So what does this all mean? I'm not entirely sure but it's possible that the album can be reflected for an experience that is a mirror image of the original experience that Arcade Fire intended. And from here you can move on to other theories: Perhaps disc 1 and disc 2 mirror each other with track 1 on disc 1 corresponding with track 1 on disc 2. I have provided that version of Reflektor here:

Listening to Reflektor this way is another completely different experience as well. It kinda reminds me of the Radiohead "Super Album" that combines OK Computer and In Rainbows which is another story in it of itself that I've written about previously.

Perhaps all this talk of reflecting the album track listing is a travesty. It's likely that Arcade Fire have spent a great deal of time agonizing over the tracklist only for some punk kid with a half-baked theory to fuck it all up and trivialize the hard work they've put into the tracklist. But with the themes of reflecting and symmetry, how could I not?

Ultimately, no matter how you slice Reflektor, this ambitious release from Arcade Fire is a strong forward progression in their style. Maybe their previous album The Suburbs has better "radio-friendly" singles but there are many times where The Suburbs drags while Reflektor is over 11 minutes longer and still feels like a smoother, tighter experience. I attribute that to the groove provided by producer James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Basically, Reflektor the lovechild of Arcade Fire and LCD Soundsystem. Not too shabby genes there.

I admit once again that I have barely had time to digest this latest album by Arcade Fire, I can't help but think of their next album already especially when I start putting Arcade Fire in the context of another similarly epic band U2.

If we put Arcade Fire's career alongside U2 and see some interesting similarities: Arcade Fire's debut Funeral - much like U2's Boy - was an incredibly new and exciting debut. The grit and power of a song like U2's "I Will Follow" mirrors the power of Arcade Fire's "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" or "Wake Up." U2's second album was October which was their biggest commentary on religion. It was also their least commercially successful album. Arcade Fire's second album? Neon Bible: A commentary on religion and also, likely, their least popular album.

Arcade Fire and U2's third album also carry similarities with each other. War by U2 is regarded as their most overtly political album, an album of passion with forceful songs like "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "New Year's Day" and "Two Hearts Beat As One." While October - like Neon Bible - felt soul-searching, both War and The Suburbs by Arcade Fire is a confident statement on society. Let's not forget themes of war in both U2's War and where Win Butler croons in the title and opening track: "You always seemed so sure that one day we'd be fighting in a suburban war."

Reflektor is Arcade Fire's fourth album and seems to be a culmination of their previous style and this decidedly more electronic style provided by James Murphy. U2's fourth album was The Unforgettable Fire which yielded unforgettable tracks like "A Certain Homecoming," "Pride (In The Name Of Love)," and "Bad" and introduced a new style that would define U2 for the rest of their career.

This makes Arcade Fire's fifth album a potentially very interesting one especially considering U2's fifth album and follow-up to The Unforgettable Fire was a little record called The Joshua Tree, arguably their best album with modern classics like "Where The Streets Have No Name," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," "With or Without You," "Bullet The Blue Sky," etc.

Arcade Fire may not have the universal appeal of U2 but their musical progression is similar. And while I continue to digest and enjoy the current Arcade Fire record, I'm already looking forward to what they can provide us with their fifth album. If only to look forward to a place to hang my hat. Hang on my hat on some bit of today's pop-culture not related to some shitty reality show and the guilty pleasures of Miley Cyrus, if only to call a modern band my own, if only to point my future children to Arcade Fire and say, "This is what it was like when I was your age" in hopes that they will understand what it was like for their old man. Much like the way I obsessively imagine what it was like to be young with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in the 1960s and Floyd and Zeppelin in the '70s and U2 in the '80s.

Woah. Got kinda deep, didn't it? Sorry, I blacked out for a second. Anyway, back to enjoying this one.

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