Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’ is one of the most anticipated releases of the year – and one of the most secretive. Strange posters of the album artwork started to appear across the world a few months ago, teasing the name of the album and sending people into a frenzy trying to work out the significance of the number 9 and references to Greek mythology. The album’s released on October 28 but NME went to hear it the other day. Here’s our track by track first listen.
You’ve heard this one. The first track released from Arcade Fire’s fourth album ‘Reflektor’ immediately announces a completely new direction for the band. The eight second intro is a wobbly, treated sample of the tinkling piano of ‘Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)’, the opener of debut ‘Funeral’ (2004), before producer James Murphy sweeps it off into a different galaxy. It’s a glitterball of a song propelled by a synthetic pulse, helter skater bass line, tropical bongos and the chemistry between couple Win Butler and Régine Chassagne. Just when you’re computing the fact Arcade Fire are making dance music now, David Bowie’s backing vocals enter, complementing a disco odyssey that looks to the past and the future. Butler described the sounds as a “mash up of Studio 54 and Haitian voodoo.”
If the 7.34 epic that kicks off ‘Reflektor’ recalls the Pulp v Soulwax remix of ‘After You’, ‘We Exist’ has shades of Michael Jackson and The Bee Gees, particularly Saturday Night Fever. With brassy, shimmery guitars and synths that break and release, we hear the creeping of a lyrical expression of paranoia and disenfranchisement that permeates the rest of the record. “Why do you treat me like this?” Win Butler squalls, sounding like a wounded funk-zombie. It’s the emotional histrionics we expect from Arcade Fire; this is dance music with heart. Melodies and harmonies spin out like tendrils as a warm bridge provides a balm to the latent aggression.
‘Flashbulb Eyes’ starts with a clattering racket and a muted scream before the bleeps of space guns and rockets appear; it’s an album very much interested in texture. Dub, calypso-type ska guitar and steel drums suggest this is one of the songs in ‘Reflektor’ inspired or recorded in Jamaica. “I know I’ve got nothing to hide,” sings Butler, emitting a whiff of defensiveness among voluptuous melodies.
Here Comes The Night Time
Woah! Reggaeton beat! No one expected that. Perhaps inspired by the band’s trip to Haiti – Haitian meringue fed into the genesis of reggaeton in Puerto Rico – it’s another propulsive, sleek track that will be at home on the dance floor with its repetitive lyrics of ‘night time’, pummeling bass and treated vocals. “If there’s no music in heaven then what’s it for?” questions Butler before a siren appears and the bottom falls out of the music, stripped to the bare bones. Applause and feedback finish the songs and it’s straight into…
My notes for this say ‘Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’. There’s definitely an 80s vibe to this track. Is Butler affecting a croon? It’s a flexible, plasticine song with riffs and melodies spinning off in different directions. “Am I cool enough for you?” they ask (you’d think they know the answer by now).
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You Already Know
It starts with a sample from Jonathan Ross’s show. “We have fantastic music from Awcade Fiyah,” he says triumphantly before a song that recalls The Cure’s ‘The Lovecats’ rockets in. We imagine the samples from the episode of the show in which Butler smashed the camera with his mandolin and stormed off the stage. “Sometimes it moves so fast… how can you move so slow?” It’s very Arcade Fire with that trademark motif of a note – musical or vocal – repeated again and again before a key change below it, turning the song into something completely different.
Joan Of Arc
The folk heroine burned at the stake for charges of witchcraft is fertile ground for songwriting (The Smiths, OMD, Leonard Cohen) and in this slightly psychedelic closer of the first half of the double album Arcade Fire sing to the disenfranchised peasant. “I’m the one who’ll follow you,” they repeat in this punked up tribute.
Here Comes The Night II
The album changes gear at the beginning of Side B with the reprise of ‘Here Comes The Night’, because, one imagines, the production’s from Markus Dravs instead of James Murphy. With lush strings and arpeggiated keys, it circles around itself, repeating the ‘Hear comes the night time’ refrain, smouldering with suffocation.
‘Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)’
‘Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)’ backs up suggestions that ‘Reflektor’ is inspired by Greek mythology and the structure of tragedy (see the album cover). A gun-shot beat that sounds polyrhythmic though it’s in 4/4 combines with acoustic guitar as the song crashes like a wave and showcases the high-level production. Lyrics about rejection and despair are complemented by Chassagne’s sweet vocals as well as a consoling bridge and section that recalls The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’.
It’s Never Over
Despite an electroclash beat, this is more trad. Arcade Fire. High-pitched panic attack vocals combine with a mutating bass line to create something nightmarish and surreal. “It seems so important now that you get over.. Seems like a big deal now but you will get over, you will discover,” Butler assured. Again, the lyrics are much more about inner life than the outward looking ‘Neon Bible’ and ‘The Suburbs’. They’re not taking any prisoners. The song ends with the line “It’s never over.” Ouch.
A beat that sounds like a whipping chain over pulsing, warm keys and a bullish vocal makes up ‘Porno’, a song about heartbreak and romantic insecurity. ‘It makes me feel like something’s wrong with me,” Butler howls, remaining emotionally indie despite an album that’s more dance than rock.
Afrobeats, urging stabbing synths and creamy vocals suggest this is one of the songs inspired by trips to the Caribbean. A cello warms things up before the song suddenly swerves: “Can we just work out and scream and shout till we work out?” Butler’s vocals brim with emotional intensity as the song accelerates into the closing track.
‘Supersymmetry’ incapsulates what ‘Reflektor’ does over 11.17 minutes. The kernel of the song is an exotic, synth-driven symphony which won’t stay still. Notes and riffs spread like infection, winding themselves like ferns around repeated motifs, builds, dims and strange sounds. Chassagne and Butler sing in symmetry instead of the call-and-response that’s common to the rest of the record and the song ends with strange feedback, as if the band has left the studio but the instruments and computers aren’t ready to stop, still vibrating and reklecting what went before.
Reflector – 7:34
We exist – 5:44
Flashbulb eyes – 2:42
Here Comes The Night Time – 6:31
Normal Person – 4:22
You already know – 3:59
Joan of Arc – 5:27
Here Comes The Night Time II – 2:52
Awful Sound – 6:14
It’s never over – 6:43
Porno – 6:03
After Life – 5:53
Supersymmetry – 11:17