Arcade Fire

Reflektor

Merge

Oct 30, 2013 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


If we can agree on one thing about Arcade Fire's latest, the record's rollout has been nothing short of bizarre, between formalwear-required preview performances, numerous teaser snippets, and the gonzo, celebrity-packed television special. Now, we can finally peel back the mirrorball-like wrapping and find out if Reflektor lives up to its mystique.

The record begins with one of the anthemic singles we've come to expect from the band. "Reflektor" is a seven-and-a-half minute coaster ride, building to multiple crescendos over racing dance beats, where James Murphy's touch as co-producer really shines. At its zenith, the track overflows with more ideas than many bands can muster on a whole album; Colin Stetson's sax arrangement gives it a retro vibe, and sample manipulation by turntablist Kid Koala imbues it with Eno-like flourishes which recall Bowie's Berlin period (and yes, that's the thin white duke giving an uncredited turn on backing vocals). The breathless pace continues into "We Exist," which sports a groovy, rolling bass line and contagiously singable vocals. The remainder of the first disc hardly lives up to its opening tracks. The dubby "Flashbulb Eyes" clashes with its surrounding songs; "Normal Person" and "You Already Know" are framed as a goofy, fake performance suite with crowd noise and an emcee introduction. These songsalong with "Joan of Arc," with its punkish opening blastwork better on their own, but throw Reflektor's momentum off-kilter slotted in where they are.

There's a break towards the midpoint, where Arcade Fire asks listeners to swap discs. Reflektor is a double album for conceptual purposes; its 75 minutes would fit on one compact disc, but each half strikes a different tone. "Here Comes the Night Time II" sets it up with a lower-key prelude. "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" is laid back, orchestral pop in classic form; Owen Pallett's orchestral arrangements give it grandeur. Like its companion, Disc Two falls off approaching its tail end. "Porno" is a synthy experiment not worth its six whole minutes. "Afterlife" would have fit in better alongside its danceable brethren on Disc One; placed an hour into the album, it's exhausting. Much of 11-minute closer "Supersymmetry" is intentional padding.

As one record listened through end-to-end, Reflektor feels like an unnecessary sprawl. It's wildly uneven, and contains more flat-out bellyflops than any of the band's previous works; it's also endlessly fascinating. Far from perfect, it's worthy of heavy exploration. (www.arcadefire.com)

Author rating: 6.5/10

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