Band of the Year: Arcade Fire


This post by Dan Pfleegor appeared in Consequence of Sound. Here are some excerpts, with a link to the original report below.

. . .

Arcade Fire, fresh off the heels of The Suburbs, their biggest and grandest record to date, were catapulted into the spotlight after winning the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2011. This was a shock to both the band — a humble bunch of Canada-by-way-of-Texas indie rockers — and to anyone who had been tuning in since their debut, Funeral, which was 2004’s bittersweet ode to childhood nostalgia and loss. This spotlight created a divergence, because not only was Arcade Fire receiving a well-deserved nod of approval from the music industry as a whole, but they also were branding themselves — whether intentionally or not —  with the dreaded scarlet M of mainstream success.

To borrow from Tennyson’s poetic account of the Crimean War, the band saw cannons to the right of them, cannons to the left of them, and cannons from the underground! But rather than wallow as targets for an inevitable volley of thunderous criticism, the band danced skyward in a completely new direction, surprising many in its swelling base of fans and turncoat army of detractors when it finally landed in Haiti.

All at once, a mysterious logo appeared. It was painted on walls, drawn in chalk along sidewalks, and etched into the dirt. No one could explain the vexing astral symbols that were spreading around towns like coded markers. This symbol bore the semi-nonsense word “REFLEKTOR.” And it was crafted in a style reminiscent of old Veve drawings, which practitioners of Haitian Vodou have been using for generations as beacons for the spirit world. Rather than tossing out a viral video or makeshift Twitter campaign, Arcade Fire borrowed a trick from Krusty the Clown’s infamous TV rival Gabbo; they laid down bricks of confusion, curiosity, and wonder that soon paved a glorious road toward the record’s release.

The Arcade Fire rumor mill had been steadily churning, especially after a Rolling Stoneinterview with LCD Soundsystem ringleader James Murphy, who revealed that he lent his production skills to some new recordings with the band. And the cryptic symbols — which found their way online like ghosts in the machine — hinted at a big reveal in early September. This date also marked the start of a collaborative push with a number of artists, some in the field of music, as well as some who were not.

Anton Corbjin, the Dutch photographer and acclaimed director behind such memorable music videos as U2’s “One” and Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box”, came on board to helm the group’s premiere of the titular single, “Reflektor”. And it didn’t disappoint. The seven-minute song was vibrant, moody, and laid down a dance hall beat that would be comfortable in any beach-side shack selling jerk chicken. The video was also the first in a string of appearances by the band decked out in giant plaster caricature masks.

As if this surprise release wasn’t enough, a second interactive video went up online the same day, meaning the “Reflektor” single was so big that it landed two music videos. Vincent Morisset, the Montreal-based, “web-friendly” director who had previously created a video for “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)”, generated an interactive experience, which utilized webcams to place the viewer’s image inside the video. The fans got a chance to boogie within mirrors that lined streets of Jacmel, Haiti. The excitement was palpable.

 Following a momentous Saturday Night Live appearance, Arcade Fire released Here Comes the Night, a 22-minute short film and concert piece directed by Roman Coppola, himself part of a royal dynasty of American filmmakers. The project added a lighthearted authenticity to the band’s alter ego, The Reflektors, which harked back to the Sgt. Pepper days of the ’60s. Taking a page from the start of The Beatles’ national tour, The Reflektors performed in a tiny club that may as well have been a run-down, cocaine-addled suite within Studio 54.

. . .

Rather than serve up more of the same, Arcade Fire decided to experiment with a sound that was equal parts disco, dance, rock, and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. It was a calculated risk sure to drive off those who wouldn’t tolerate change or who threw their noses in the air at the mere whiff of selling out. But, this mutation was crucial. The absence of change brings about stagnation, which ultimately leads to death. Not to ruin the ending, but the band didn’t die. They succeeded — even thrived — across a double album that dances like nobody’s watching.

For the original report go to

Artwork by Steven Fiche (Buy prints + more)

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