DIY was fortunate enough to be led into a dark record label room in central London to listen to ‘Reflektor’ in its entirety. Dense & titanic in both scope and length, it was a miracle we came out the other side. In short: It’s an album that topples the hype, rips all the fancy posters down from city streets and sends them skywards. Here’s DIY’s track-by-track guide to the most anticipated album of 2013:
You might’ve heard this one. The intro to ‘Reflektor’ - which sounds like it’s compressing half a dozen songs and coming out the other side - doesn’t extend any further. David Bowie’s amped-up cameo remains the highlight in one of the undoubted singles of the year.
For all ‘Reflektor”s disco intentions and all-white Saturday Night Fever suits, this is just about the record’s most glitterball moment. A bassline to rival the Bee Gees collides with buzzsaw guitars and a tight ‘na na na na na na na’ refrain. Guitars are turned up a few hundred notches 2 minutes in. It basically sounds like ‘The Suburbs’ itself is caving right in. ‘Down on your knees / begging me please’ turns a prolific Win Butler, who takes a centre-stage role for a good 98% of this record. 13 minutes in (enough of the stats, pfft), the length doesn’t feel overbearing. But there’s a whole lot more to come.
The record’s second shortest track bursts right in, knocking over whichever minions that are daring enough to cross its path. It’s chaos. Drums enter a crazed, jungle-fevered state. Synths pow with not a second to spare. Win’s in an echo chamber of energised, breathless energy. Midway through the whole thing turns a little bit Talking Heads, luring in a reggae-like guitar line backed by a confident, swaggering ‘hit me with your flashbulb eyes’ mantra. The big band mentality is still there for Arcade Fire, but it’s being executed very differently, second home Haiti being the focus.
Here Comes The Night Time
This is the centrepiece of ‘Reflektor”s first half. It’s ridiculous to even consider the fact but the title-track feels like a lifetime away. Opening all sparse and colourful, a bassline that mimics an underground train backs up some reverb-ed Butler vocals. Behind the sweetly-sweetly pianos and steel pans, there’s a sadness to the piece. Like Haiti’s past and present, what’s beautiful is bittersweet. What Arcade Fire have captured here sounds like walking straight into a street parade.
Suddenly things switch. The band enter a gig setting, opening with a rehearsed ‘thankyou guys so much for coming out.’ Sweaty basement venues are pictured - about as far away as you could get from where this record is going to end up - mimicking Deerhunter’s nostalgia-rinsed ‘Halcyon Days’ more than anything else. It’s thrashy, guitar notes bend to the sound of a band on a mission.
You Already Knew
‘Reflektor”s clearly sporting a punk-addled mid-section. Skinny jeans strung on, drinks spilling within the crowd. Of all people, Jonathan Ross introduces the band, before a shuffling beat and skittish approach links up to a vague, semi-focused ska influence. Win’s central again. Regine’s barely had a word - it’s beginning to become an issue.
Joan Of Arc
This is pure punk. If Walter White made punk, this’d be the result. Glistening blue, it’s Arcade Fire hitting the endpoint of their brief spell in sweaty venues. And it sounds huge. A potential single, the guitars roar, Regine makes a much-needed impression and James Murphy’s production is drenched all over the track. By the end - and this also closes the record’s first half - the whole thing sounds like a Tardis spiralling into space.
Here Comes The Night Time II
After ‘Joan of Arc”s big bang, there’s silence. NASA are on ground control with this one. Cellos sweep in, rooting themselves in a church-like atmosphere. It’s a slow build, everything that collapsed in the last track coming back into focus.
Awful Sound (Oh, Eurydice)
This is all getting a bit much. Street parades swarm back in, in what could count as the ‘actual proper’ centrepiece of ‘Reflektor’. This two-part giant - referring to the Greek tragedy album artwork - has a bongo-centric beginning, morphing in what could potentially be marked as Arcade Fire’s ‘bond theme’. Guitar dart about all over the place, and there’s still a sense that the band are easing themselves back in after a punk rebellion went comatose.
It’s Never Over (Oh, Orpheus)
Together with ‘Awful Sound’, this record’s beginning to go galactic, heading upwards to new beginnings. Considering what’s coming next (the grubby ‘Porno’ and the outstanding ‘Afterlife’) this could quite literally be the sound of Arcade Fire being sent up to the heavens. Following a synth line that lends from Chromatics, ‘It’s Never Over’ comes close to mimicking ‘Sprawl II’ from the band’s last record. Regine takes lead, leading glasslike guitars and tap-tap percussion towards womps. Actual womps.
It stands out on the tracklist, and although ‘Porno’ isn’t a highlight on ‘Reflektor’, it’s definitely the record’s most lustworthy track. Fat disco synths lend themselves to Win’s hot-and-bothered, self-damning lines of ‘something’s wrong with me’. It’s half-creepy, half-stylish as hell, asking the song’s subject to ‘take your make up off’. There’s probably a deep concept behind this, but it’s hard to pick up on within a first listen when the focus is on getting away from those sticky synth parts.
Huge. This is the single, surely. What a song. Swaying from sounding like a heart monitor to Arcade Fire at their most energised (ever), this is a relatively short and sweet conclusion to the band’s journey. It’s been big, dense, often overbearing, but if a song like this can still stand out after 70-odd minutes of unrelenting noise, there’s got to be something very special going on.
Then comes the close. It begins dreamy, sounding like it could appear on a soap commercial, of all things. The bass gets big, the track lurches on, looming over everything that’s preceded it. It could go colossal, but it chooses to simmer down, ending on a somewhat frustrating several minutes of near-silence, bubbling to an anticlimax. Still, the last note written on the back of this listening party says ‘I’ll be buying this for my mum’, so that can only be a good sign.
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