Scratched Into Our Souls

Arcade Fire – ‘The Suburbs’ | July 23, 2010

In the early hours of the morning, somebody quietly dropped a bombshell that would awaken the collective musical consciousness of almost everybody who cares seriously about indie music. That bombshell was The Suburbs, the highly anticipated third album by Canadian band Arcade Fire.

I’ll admit, I told a handful of people that I had a sneaking suspicion The Suburbs was going to be one of the big let-downs of 2010, one of those albums that completely fell flat or compromised so-called ‘authenticity’ (really just a word used to describe how much we think the band was trying to make songs that would move units rather than our emotions). Upon listening to The Suburbs, I have no idea why I would have ever doubted the band in the first place. I am happy to say I was wrong, and I will eat my words. To Win and Regine: I will never, ever doubt you again. I am once again a believer.

The Suburbs is an album brimming with tension and distress, complimented by rich orchestrations and swelling choruses that are packed with emotion. Singing in his most heart-wrenching style, Win Butler manages to channel the nervous anxiety of life in America better than almost everybody. His only peers that can truly claim to be his equals are The National. There is a big difference, however, between the lyrical and emotional content of The National and Arcade Fire, and the two band’s latest releases really cement them in place. With Alligator, Boxer, and High Violet, Matt Berninger and The National manage to evoke a sense of suffering and loneliness in the American city. With Funeral, Neon Bible, and The Suburbs, Arcade Fire create a sense of worriment and restlessness that stems from our own mortality, our fears, and our day-to-day lives amongst the quiet suburbs.

Perhaps the most pleasant thing about The Suburbs is how well it all flows together as a whole and feels like an album that is meant to be heard in its entirety. Owen Pallett’s string arrangements are probably the best he’s ever put together for the band, and lend a sense of experimentation to the band’s signature sound which revolutionized indie rock back in 2004. In a day when too many artists look for a few killer singles to anchor their albums, The Arcade Fire are constructing sonic monuments one piece at a time, insisting that they have something important to say and asking you to listen carefully. Not a moment is wasted. Simply put, Arcade Fire are the band that the Kings of Leon wish they were: a critically adored, popular band whose music is universally appreciated for artistic brilliance rather than criticized as shallow attempts to reach the back seats of the stadium. Arcade Fire’s emotional reach will extend past those seats and into the stratosphere, but not before burrowing their way into your heart and asking you to examine your soul – assuming it hasn’t been relegated to the oblivion of The Sprawl, where “everything’s connected but nothing ever touches.”

The band’s biggest strength has always been their intuition. They know when to scale things back and strip them down, as on the supremely touching and gorgeous closing track “The Suburbs (continued).” They also know when to let it all hang out and go for broke, laying the pedal to the floor, as they do with propulsive tunes like “Half Light II (No Celebration)” or the raw, rollicking punk-rocker “Month of May.” They also know how to completely sweep the rug out from under you and leave you in a disoriented sense of bliss, as they do halfway through the album with centerpiece “Suburban War,” which begins as an emotionally poignant ode about the escape provided by the road, turns into a song about friends you’ve been separated from and “never saw again,” before a slight pause that fakes you into letting your guard down as the song turns a corner and propels itself double-time down the highway, driving itself towards an aimless destination that is anywhere but where you’ve been. It’s their “Born To Run,” and maybe the best song they’ve ever written.

Whether The Suburbs is better than Neon Bible or Funeral will take far more time to determine. All I can tell you with level-headed fairness is that you’ll not be disappointed by The Suburbs, as Arcade Fire have created their third classic in a row and one of the finest records of a very strong year.

Listen: Arcade Fire – “Suburban War”


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1 Comment »

  1. Great review.
    Here is my review
    Loving The Suburbs!!

    Comment by Ming Wu — July 23, 2010 @ 10:42 pm

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    About Me: Chris Robinson

    A budding writer and avid music fan from Los Angeles, California, I am a recent graduate of Music History from UCLA's Herb Alpert School of Music. I've written for the UCLA Daily Bruin, graduated valedictorian from high school, and enjoy many different types of music, from The Beatles to Beethoven, and everything in between. I wrote my senior thesis on lyrical misinterpretations in popular music, focusing on Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA."

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    All music posted on this blog is for sampling purposes only. If you like what you hear, support the artists. Go out and buy their music, attend their shows, and buy merchandise.

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