Since the release of their self-titled EP in 2003, very few bands have achieved the critical and commercial acclaim of Arcade Fire. With three beautiful albums, some of the biggest indie anthems of a generation and a vast collection of award, Arcade Fire have cemented their position as one of the biggest bands in the world. With new album Reflektor just a few weeks away (produced by no other than James Murphy, something we’re all obviously excited about) we thought we’d round up a few of our contributors to comb through the band’s magnificent back catalogue.
Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels) :: 2004
From the first high-key honky-tonk chords of Funeral’s opener, the weight of Arcade Fire’s layered arrangements move you into a world of innocence, beauty and euphoria. “And if the snow buries my neighbourhood…”. Win Butler’s musings on childhood, the complexities of the adult world and imminent death hardly sound joyous; but ‘Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)’ epitomises Arcade Fire’s ideal song: a gradual and stylistic build-up of their orchestral sound, naïve words wrenching at the heart like a knife and conceiving a timelessness through a tight blend of strings, electric guitar, pounding drums to name a few of the band’s billion elements. “Purify the colours, purify my mind, and spread the ashes of the colours over this heart of mine” – by the time the song crescendos into their trademark “whoa-oh-oh’s”, it awakens deep emotions. Live, it proves the staple of any show, anchoring a stark humanity amidst all the chaos. Arcade Fire’s genius lies in their ability to make ‘big’, bombastic music and still maintain an engraved subtlety; ‘Tunnels’ is exemplary of that technique, and truly one of the greatest songs of the past decade.
Crown of Love :: 2004
Dipping their toes into schmaltz, ‘Crown of Love’ is a blissful concoction incorporating sweet Win Butler vocals and Regine’s angelic undertones lacing the 50s-inspired waltz background. Beautifully cinematic, the track builds around its strings into a gushing finale which sees Regine’s haunting falsettos soaring over a rampant and urgent finale. This, like so much of the band’s debut record, is a track which underlines the band’s potential and self-belief, subtly cementing their position as one of this generation’s definitive acts.
My Body Is A Cage :: 2007
‘Neon Bible’ saw Win Butler’s lyrics reflect outwards. Whereas ‘Funeral’ was an exercise in introspection, Butler places a ‘Black Mirror’ in front of the world around him, targeting everyone from the church to the desires of the common man. This thematic concern makes album closer ‘My Body Is A Cage’ stand out. In a classic exploration of the Cartesian Split, Butler brilliantly reflects on his corporeal limitations in an isolated pit of self pity. Delivered over a swelling church organ, Butler’s exploration of his own spirituality is a truly spectacular way to end any album.
(Antichrist Television Blues) :: 2007
I’ll freely admit this isn’t an Arcade Fire song I dip into frequently. Unquestionably a highlight of the Springsteen-indebted Neon Bible, ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ provides the subtle emotional crux of the band’s sophomore album. Originally titled Joe Simpson, the melodic song is dictated from the p-o-v of a working-class father with high aspirations for his daughter. “She can sing like a bird in a cage/Oh Lord if you could see her when she’s up on that stage”. Conflicted between an age of celebrity and his devotion to God, his desperation to escape the “building downtown” pits him to take the precarious measures that he does, and the layered build-up of echoed guitars and glockenspiel underlie his insecure and dangerous words. One of Arcade Fire’s overlooked masterpieces, ATB provides some of Win Butler’s most potent storytelling, and the band at its most fervently contained; a song that stands quiet against Arcade Fire’s other work, but absolutely jolting when given the chance.
We Used To Wait :: 2010
I completely sympathise with the recurring theme of communication and its breakdown through technology in Arcade Fire’s songs like this one. The meaning and patience of communication expressed in ‘We Used To Wait’ makes you wish you lived in a Jane Austen novel and wrote pretty looking letters all day. The fast pace of the intro mocks the essence of the rush we’re constantly in yet the melody and lyrics urge you to chill out and have you hanging on every word. Each layer of sound gradually makes its debut and effortlessly intertwines to work collectively for a full texture. And maybe we should take note, make like the music, and meander together.
Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) :: 2010
The Suburbs is an album fraught with insecurities about modern living. No song embodies this theme more than the brilliant ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’. Over some pulsing disco synths, Regine beautifully spins us a tale of youthful dissatisfaction. It’s an engaging take on an adolescent’s desire to break free of the suburban ‘sprawl’, to truly experience the world beyond.
Suburban War :: 2010
‘Suburban War’ is a track shrouded in the memories of a time that used to be, and you can immediately sense the heartache and nostalgia. The riff is oddly elegant against the grand yet earthy voice of Win Butler, but side by side it conjures up a reflective element from the conformity of fitting into a group to how music tastes can tear people apart. How Arcade Fire manage to perfectly articulate the complex emotions behind the track is just one of their striking qualities. The eerie backing vocals at the end of the track with the thumping drums just add to the exasperated and almost confused mood of this song. You can’t help but feel for the melancholic man.
Speaking In Tongues :: 2011
It is always difficult to judge an Arcade Fire song as a stand-alone entity. Much like new track ‘Reflektor’, ‘Speaking In Tongues’ was released as a precursor to the band’s documentary Scenes from The Suburbs. Their albums are so well-rounded, thought-provoking and contextual that you need to digest them as a whole. A particularly low-key affair, the track comes complete with backing vocals from the yelping David Byrne of Talking Heads – whom the track is utterly indebted to. Byrne and Butler’s melodic fusion is luscious, with the lyrics outstandingly representing the difficulties in modern communication.