Arcade Fire. The Canadian indie heroes have been pretty quiet of late… the only murmurs that have permeated our newsfeeds were allegations of pop diva Delta Goodrem ripping off their classic track “Rebellion (Lies)”… Until they announced they were releasing a double album!
It’s a brave (or very silly) move releasing a two disc set in the current musical climate. We are as a society increasingly time-poor and more inclined to consume and discard musical titbits… either via streaming or downloads, the content of which is often relegated to some dusty hard drive never to be heard again (or deleted completely) unless it was totally mind blowing. There are exceptions of course, die hard music collectors and audiophiles are still out there (this reviewer’s musical completism borders on the obsessive compulsive) but the only artist in recent memory to release a double album was Neil Young and… well, he’s Neil Young.
Inspired in part by vocalist/guitarist Win Butler and multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne undertaking a trip to Haiti, the album exhibits a few telltale signs: a Caribbean beat here, a steel drum-esque synth there, but by and large it’s danceable indie pop… and yes, amazingly given their success, we can still call them indie: Thank you Merge records.
Kicking off with the unremarkable title cut (ignoring the pointless pre-gap hidden track), the album gives one a fearful notion that they are to be bored to death by two discs of meek Canadian quasi-disco, however, the second track “We Exist” leaps quickly to the rescue. This track demonstrates what is to be the meat-and-potatoes of the album. Hook laden bass & synth lines with layers of guitar, multitracked vocals….and a few more synths for good measure.
Being as most of the band members are multi-instrumentalists, it’s difficult to know just who’s playing what, but interestingly for a rock/pop album, the synth and basslines drive & shape the songs and are the heroes of the record. Not to take anything away from the other instruments, but therein is the pulse of Reflektor.
The first disc is loaded with pop treats and interesting sonic explorations. “Here Comes The Night Time” and “Joan Of Arc” both begin with surprisingly quick tempos but glide down to an easier pace in what is a really interesting application of rhythmic dynamism. The latter in particular begins as if it’s gonna be a hardcore punk beatdown, but it quickly morphs into the swinging tempo that’s the backbone of the song. Initially this leaves you feeling a little let down and emotionally short-changed, but the track is terrific and the infectious bassline (not to mention the great vocal harmonies) underscores just how important it is to the album… and this song in particular.
Ok… disc one is a winner; pure, classy and imaginative pop music. Come on disc two, don’t let the team down!
Beginning with the familiar (to those old enough to remember) ascending cadence of bloop bloop bleeps that marked the beginning of side B of certain cassette tapes, the main body of track one follows. “Here Comes The Night Time II” is a morbid reprise of its namesake, the smouldering ashes of part I… hang on… oh no… “part II”, “reprise”… oh shit, we’re sailing dangerously close to pretentious concept album territory…
Following are “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”… Oh Orpheus?…Oh no! Suites? The pompous spectres of Yes and ELP are upon us! Thankfully “Awful Sound” is pretty decent with a crescendo befitting its title, however the cracks are beginning to show… and become crevasses. Much of disc two is really second rate… I mean, with a double album you expect some filler, but you don’t expect it all to be crammed onto the second disc like it was a bonus of studio outtakes or some shit like that. Not a single track on disc two manages to get its hooks into you like practically every song on disc one does. I don’t know if this is an anomaly that applies only to me… but after the musical highs of disc one, what’s offered up next is really quite irritating.
It’s not “bad” music exactly; stylistically it follows suit, but it lacks the focus and drive of its predecessor. Quite a bit of it is undefined droning synth-slop, which, while not unpleasant, is comparatively uninspiring and the eject button beckons increasingly with every arpeggiated synth line. Take the final track “Supersymmetry”; 11 minutes of inoffensive, bland and unnecessary formlessness. No thanks. “Afterlife” is dance worthy but unremarkable and the aforementioned “Awful Sound” has it’s moments, but gimme disc one!
Once again a band reduces the impact of its work by padding it out excessively.
‘Reflektor’ is a frustrating release. Fantastic in parts (the first part) and tiresome elsewhere, it would have received a much higher rating were the second disc up to the quality of the first… or omitted completely.