Though it took them a trip to the Caribbean and some Disco lessons from LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, Arcade Fire has finally learned how to have fun. The indie rock band’s fourth release, Reflektor, marks an intentional movement away from their definitive, Grammy-winning sound and ushers in a reenergized, playful one that is less saturated in heavy thematic content. This doesn’t mean that Reflektor is entirely free from William Butler’s didactic, preachy lyrics, but this time they are delivered in a more brightly lit way.
The spunk of this album is found in the Montreal-based foursome’s revitalized rhythm section. This new identity thumps in from the get-go with the title-track’s dancy, disco beat. Murphy’s production influence is no secret on “Reflektor,”as the band borrows heavily from LCD Soundsystem’s iconic bass-heavy synth line and complex percussion. The electronic, full sound on this track builds gradually as floating synth chords and dynamic guitar riffs are layered over the disco breakbeat, setting a lively tone for the 75-minute double album to come.
Disco isn’t the only new trick that Arcade Fire has tacked onto their new rhythmic lexicon. On “Here Comes The Night Time,” the band introduces a Caribbean Carnival inspired lilt, which meshes beautifully with the warmth and energy of the track. The song’s instrumentation starts at a fast, celebratory shuffle, then without warning settles into relaxed syncopation, more suitable to carry Butler’s soft, fuzzy vocals.
Reflektor is the first of Arcade Fire’s albums on which Butler’s wife and bandmate, Régine Chassagne, hasn’t been the lead vocalist. It’s not until the duo of “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” and “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus),” that Chassagne is able to bring the band’s vocal line back to where it has been in their previous work. In this pairing, Chassagne and Butler’s voices wind together in an emotion-filled tragedy. The first of the two tracks is backed by the same Haitian drum, while the second draws its support from Murphy’s Disco influence, offsetting the Carnival playfulness with a darker, bass-heavy feel.
Arcade Fire’s departure from their comfort zone reinvigorated a sound that had become stagnant with new elements and diverse influences. At times, Reflektor’s movement away from their old refinement proves ineffective. “Porno” is dull and anticlimactic, and “We Exist” and “Joan Of Ark” risk falling into angsty teen-pop. Despite its occasional letdowns, Arcade Fire brilliantly moves forward, reshaping their sound with no reflection on the past.
Voice’s Choices: “Reflektor,” “Here Comes The Night Time”