On the cusp of Arcade Fire’s fourth — and likely most evolved — full-album release, it’s the perfect time to take a look back at how the band has grown over the years. Throughout the band’s development, countless cracks have been made about their numerous band members, but considering the complexity and popularity of their music, the “band with enough members to form their own country” is here to stay. Frontman Win Butler shares the stage with his now-wife, Regine Chassagne, along with Richard Reed Parry, William Butler, Jeremy Gara, Tim Kingsbury and Sarah Neufeld, but the list of past band members extends much further. Since the days of its inception, the Quebec-based project has gained a cult following; but they certainly didn’t begin their musical journey that way.
Arcade Fire released its first self-titled EP in 2003. Unfortunately, it flopped. It wasn’t until 2005 — after the release of 2004’s Funeral, which snagged the attention of critics and the public — that the EP was re-released and subsequently supported in the public eye. Funeral itself was packed with the perfect mix of hard rock and acoustic, soft tracks that make a hit album. Every song is irresistible to sing along to, thanks to Butler’s unique crooning. From each of the four “Neighborhood” tracks to “Wake Up” and “Rebellion (Lies),” the album sounds as if it were crafted by an ‘80s rock band rebranded for the new millennium. Funeral introduced Arcade Fire’s distinct inclusion of a multitude of musical instruments, including violin, cello, xylophone, French horn, accordion, mandolin, harp and hurdy-gurdy, allowing them to create their unique sound and stage presence.
In 2007, Butler and company returned with Neon Bible, an album filled overwhelmingly with sorrow for the state of America. This album is admittedly darker, and while it echoes the indie-rock style of Funeral, it’s clear that Arcade Fire had fine-tuned their sound for their sophomore album. “Black Mirror,” the album opener, begins with the lyrics “I walked down to the ocean/ after waking from a nightmare/ no moon, no pale reflection/ black mirror” and only gets darker from there. Even standout hit “Keep the Car Running” is dark in its nature, where Butler sings of men coming to take him away and details his envisioned escape. Neon Bible also amped up the grandeur in terms of instruments. Sweeping harps and horn blasts are scattered throughout, to create an ethereal, heavenly sound in many tracks, most notably “Ocean of Noise.”
Once again, Arcade Fire spent three years between albums before delivering 2010’s The Suburbs. Although by this point the band had received acclaim from many top music charts, magazines and culture critics, it wasn’t until they received the prestigious GRAMMY for “Album of the Year” for The Suburbs that their place in history was cemented. While some people were outraged that these rockers who had received no other Grammy awards could win the night’s biggest prize, they’ve proven they belong among the ranks of other Album of the Year recipients. The Suburbs is a dip into the mainstream, yet still holds the essential elements that make Arcade Fire different from any other band. Album after album, Butler continues to enchant listeners with his lost-boy lyrics, and the virtuosity of the musicians he has accrued over the years.
Now, with a decade of music making under its belt, Arcade Fire will release Reflektor on Oct. 29. They’ve been previewing the album in all kinds of ways, from performing on late-night talk shows to scheduling secret shows throughout North America. The album harnesses a new sound, obvious through its title track; and new might not be so bad. It’s difficult to tell so early, but it may turn out to be Arcade Fire’s best endeavor yet. Though, whatever the outcome, the band’s journey and evolution up unto this point shouldn’t be forgotten. After all, they couldn’t be where they are now without the band they had been.
Check out their raucous CMJ 2013 performance at 299 Meserole, of their new album’s title track, “Reflektor”, via Youtube.
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