Funeral – Arcade Fire

Label: Rough Trade

Think back over some of the most seminal American indie records of the past few years, and all the reasons you considered them so great. The Flaming Lips’ ‘Soft Bulletin’ and the way it bent your perception of awe. Modest Mouse’s melding of heartening eccentricity and gold-top songwriting on ‘Good News For People Who Love Bad News’. The Postal Service’s sharpening of a whole genre’s sound on ‘Give Up’. Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserters Songs’ and their ability to tell a whole story with a sound. The Polyphonic Spree’s ‘Beginning Stages Of…’ and its humble orchestrated majesty. The open-minded poise of most of Beck’s portfolio. The beautiful vocabulary of Bright Eyes’ repertoire and the moments when Conor is matched beat for beat by a band focused on catharsis and celebration. Arcade Fire have not only made a record worthy of such a rich heritage, they’ve made moves to emulate and eclipse it too.

If there is one observation to be made of partial-peers the Polyphonic Spree, it’s that their ship is moored in a land of make believe – no song has an obvious history, merely an idealistic standpoint. That might not be a wrong, but the Arcade Fire right it anyway. Opening track ‘Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’ is that same Spree dropped into the fast lane of life, spurred and spun by a pace that they’ve not yet attuned to, inhaling diesel fumes, channeling their firm beating heart into rising above the hubbub, drowning it in beauty and pure adrenalin, and discovering their real selves.

The lyrics, aching with succinct poetry, talk of time passing, memories faltering and the remaining fragments. He sings with toiled sweetness of remembering bedrooms, “in our parents’ bedrooms, and the bedrooms of our friends”. “And we think of our parents, whatever happened to them!?”. Steel drums chime, there is the sound of a Beach Boy sending out an SOS from a gravel pit and small focused frenzy is projected onto a wide stormy sky, with just a chink of sunlight breaking through. It is personal, fraught, perfectly tailored, enormous and incomparable. But it’s still small enough to hold, and hold dear. It is also just one song of 10 equals.

It’s hard to express precisely where the excitement that courses through the record stems from. It is a record rooted in inspirations that you’ll already be familiar with from their aforementioned peers, but it’s presented in no way that you know. Win Butler’s vocals are strung up so high, like a puppet in a perpetual state of strained exaggeration, a la Wayne Coyne and then some. It’s like he’s conducting the show to the same standards, everything just that little bit beyond usual. Régine Chassagne’s incredible voice operates in Bjork-like ratios on ‘Haiti’ and ‘In The Backseat’ only taking this theory to another level. The album as a whole rattles along without ever pushing unduly hard, utilizing rhythms reminiscent of Clinic on ‘Wake Up’ and ‘Une Annee Sans Lumiere’, and swimming on jazzy influence and in drugged up proportions. It’s hard to express exactly what you’re going to think of this. Odds on you’ll love it immeasurably. 

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Release: Arcade Fire - Funeral
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Released: 22 March 2005