Arcade Fire - Reflektor

It’s disco inferno, as the band’s past, present and future collide on a dense, gigantic fourth album.

Label: Sonovox

Rating:

Arcade Fire’s past, present and future isn’t exactly riddled with mystery. They formed a band out in Montréal, barely any of them knowing how to play the drums. Then they got bigger, better, bigger again. They made second homes in Haiti and then New York. Their records became more conceptual, their reputation skyrocketing in the process. With fourth album ‘Reflektor’, their past is documented in vivid detail, delivered with such urgency and bombast it’s difficult to look ahead. But look ahead they do, arriving with their fullest and most ambitious record to date. 

Haiti is the past. It’s the focus of the record’s first third. The chaotic, marching band entrance of ‘Here Comes The Night Time’ is Haiti, as is the burst of noise that defines the record’s shortest track ‘Flashbulb Eyes’, which plays out like a street parade with no endpoint. Flailing arms and steel pans ahoy, Arcade Fire are flexing their big band mentality muscle, but it’s being executed in a completely different way. Circuiting the band’s biology - they left ‘The Suburbs’ for beautiful, cursed Haiti - there’s a lifetime’s worth of heady concepts, but it’s difficult to get away from the sheer noise of it all. 

Up goes the amp dial again. ‘Reflektor’ runs whole hog, linking Jonathan Ross spoken-word intros (seriously) with an old-school garage vibe - think Deerhunter’s ‘Halcyon Days’ performed with ten times the cast. It comes to a sudden halt with ‘Joan Of Arc’, which links up a James Murphy beat with roaring guitars and an - unfortunately rare - appearance from Régine Chassagne. If this is punk, it’s being approached from the view of a Tardis spiralling out of the sky; ‘Joan of Arc’ basically mimics one in its crazed climax. 

For all ‘Reflektor”s dense, frenzied beginnings, there’s still room for a single or two. The title-track performs the miraculous by making a 7-minute triumph come off like a 3 minute pop song. That’s not always the case, though. ‘Supersymmetry”s sleepy close runs for 11 minutes, although the bulk of it is bubbling, slightly irritating near-silence. ‘You Already Know’ keeps things succinct, but its simplicity doesn’t match previous album’s ‘Month of May’, and it’s probably ‘Reflektor”s sole weak moment. 

Arcade Fire have mastered big. They’ve always been good at going grand, but in a double-up of ‘Awful Sound (Oh, Eurydice)’ and ‘It’s Never Over (Oh, Orpheus)’, they reach a ridiculous new level. With both tracks pointing to the accompanying Greek tragedy artwork, the former keeps up a street parade theme, going bongo-centric and string-crazy. Regine takes lead in the second track, glass-like guitars sliding over dubstep womps, in what closely resembles ‘The Suburbs” ‘Sprawl II’. Together, they work as the sound of a band shaking off their past, however precious it might’ve been. 

That’s not everything. Fat disco synths strut style in the fittingly hot-under-the-collar ‘Porno’, its title acting against Butler’s demands of ‘All your make up - just take if off’, pointing to a band working under no pretences. If disco’s being flexed, it’s not in a conventional, referential sense. ‘The Reflektors’ - Arcade Fire’s resurrection, of sorts - appear in the record’s closing half. With disco, they tear original fragments from the seams. ‘Afterlife’ is simple and triumphant, using 80s staples and flipping them inside out. It wouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the entire record was built around ‘Afterlife’. This is the new, rejuvenated Arcade Fire; past thrown to one side, only eyes ahead. Here’s to the future.