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What I’m listening to this week: Arcade Fire

July 7, 2009

Funeral – 2004

Funeral was the debut album for Arcade Fire, and when it was released in 2004, it proved without a doubt that indie bands can still come out of nowhere and be not only powerful, but highly influential.  Even 5 years later, Funeral is dangerously close to perfection.  This is the type of album that a band can really only make once; it explodes with the pain, angst, and urgency of youth, partly inspired by the deaths of several of the band’s relatives during recording, but also by intense romance and heartache.  Each song is infused with a melodic barrage of sounds from a variety of instruments and backing harmonies – the band regularly tours with 12 members – and vocals from the de facto leaders of the band, husband and wife Win Butler and Régine Chassagne.

Funeral begins with “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”, the first of four “Neighborhood” tracks on the album that explore love, pain, and relationships.  “Tunnels” follows the relationship of two lovers who dig a tunnel between their bedrooms and become so entwined with one another that they forget literally everything else.  The song is led by a propulsive chiming piano and guitar, but is effectively a wall of sound of which Win Butler’s vocals are the highlight.  His voice is fervent and fiery; when it’s low it sounds like he’s about to boil over and when he raises it, it’s unconstrained, lending a sense of immediacy that is also decisively authentic.

“Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” is a rowdy and hyper drum, string and accordion driven lament laced with frustration, with Win’s vocals covered in distortion and accented by Régine’s, who sounds a bit like an unhinged Björk (and I mean that in the best possible way).  “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” is one of the best tracks on Funeral.  In effect, “Power Out” is the epicenter of the album; full of kinetic, infectious energy and anxious tension, a metaphorical search for the soul played at full tilt.  Finally, “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)” is a slightly folksy dirge that captures a humdrum existence beginning with the lines: “I am waitin’ ’til I don’t know when/’cause I’m sure it’s gonna happen then”.

Two other tracks that anchor the album are “Wake Up”, a brilliant ambitious anthem featuring the entire band singing as a glorious choir amidst the overriding theme of the loss of innocence, and it’s companion “Rebellion (Lies)”.  “Rebellion (Lies)”, the second to last track, is an anarchistic force that throbs with pounding rhythm and fist-pumping chants, a feat rare to find so close to the end of an album.

Fortunately, Funeral is filled with other top-notch tracks as well.  “Crown of Love” is a circular and waltz-like yearn for a first love lost.  In the verses, Win’s voice simmers darkly between the distant drum beats and morose strings, but is countered by the bittersweet and pleading chorus.  “Haiti” finds Régine singing solo about her homeland; a disturbing portrayal awash in a hypnotic backbeat and electric guitar line.  Régine also take the lead (and sounds particularly Björk-like) in the closing track, “In the Backseat”, an emotional confession that reaches its climax when she finally lets loose with howls and the music swells to match.

Funeral is one of my all-time favorite albums and it’s so good that it remains to be seen whether or not Arcade Fire themselves can match it.  In my opinion, just in case I didn’t make my feelings on it clear at all, it’s a must-have.

One Comment leave one →
  1. seanningham permalink*
    July 29, 2009 4:21 pm

    The album is a must have, and Arcade Fire’s live show is simply amazing. If they tour near your town, do yourself a favor and go see them.

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