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Thursday, August 5, 2010

A Violent Wind From a Modern Band

The Suburbs, by Arcade Fire, is one of those rare albums that gives you goosebumps from the first time you listen to it through all subsequent listens.  I will do my best not to gush too much, but come on man, this is outrageous!  
Beginning with the title track, "The Suburbs," has a smooth rock intro; right away you're grabbed by the lyrics and movement (a la "Tunnels").  Opening the album up to a wonderful world of musical possibilities, we experience excellent timing and sensational vocals, exhibiting the band's growth since the release of their ep.  
"Ready to Start" gives plenty of evidence for Win's love of Bruce Springsteen, some qualms with immoral and religious leaders, and a bit of 90s rock influence as well.  Masterfully bridges tracks 1 and 3, while strongly standing on its own with glittery, gorgeous guitar and bass, along with lyrics such as, "I would rather be wrong, than live in the shadows of your son."  F'in A!
"Modern Man" further explores some Springsteen style music, yet is absolutely their own.  You want to pick up a guitar to play and sing along with this powerful tune.  Another shot at self-righteous, self-described "modern men" (ahem Bill O??), this track ends with a Built to Spill-inspired riff, which I adore.
Orchestral sounds pepper the opening of "Rococo," even though the band returned to their 8 piece original for this record.  This is the first "big band" track on this killer album.  Heavy bass and strings add to the ominous feeling which is reconciled with lovely keyboards and guitar moving into lighter strings.  The ups and downs in the music successfully mimic the tides of popular culture in North America. See and hear for yourself:
"Empty Room" is our first reminder of a previous time, building on the ferocity of the re-worked No Cars Go, then punching up the volume with guitar and strings, droning into super sonic happiness.  A beautiful vision of independence when conformity is still the norm, this is a quick interlude with much presence.
Hand claps and sweet vox with some more smooth guitar work open "City with no Children," an excellent showcase of this band's immense talent.  Anyone who's driven through Dallas or Houston (or Atlanta for that matter) during heavy traffic will most likely identify with this piece.  It also speaks of the evils associated with being rich and lazy, you get the sense Win fears becoming that which he despises most, and don't we all?
"Half Light I" is a light refreshment of sound quietly leaking in with beautiful vocals and guitar, increasing slowly but steadily in volume and intensity much like "How it Ends" by Devotchka.  A gorgeous song for a gorgeous record (if you guessed I kinda like this album, you're wrong.  I freakin love it!)  I'm always a fan of Arcade Fire's string arrangements, and this song has some of their best to date.
Next you get smacked in the face with the awesome "Half Light II (No Celebration)."  Think U2, War-era, only, well, better.  This tune is frightfully good and lyrically and rhythmically succeeds in caressing your ear holes with affection.  Rousing vocals, Strummer and Boeckner- esque guitar, and fabulous strings backed by heavy bass and well paced drums, this tune will turn you inside out.  Another excellent example of their sensational synthesizer skills as well.
In another nod to Arcade Fire's past, with "Suburban War" I'm reminded of the tropical storm of "Ocean of Noise," but again they've built on to the success of such a song and made another great anti-love ballad.  Keyboards and guitar carry us on this wonderful drive through economically and emotionally broken towns and give us something amazing to hold onto.  With the line "The music divides us into tribes, you choose your side and I'll choose my side;" the song explodes into an amazing drum crescendo, moving the "tribes" apart amid reminisces of an aging young man, carrying us out into the next whirlwind.
"Month of May" is the most eccentric, yet somehow still familiar song for Arcade Fire, at least on this cd.  Very evocative of Neil Young's "Rockin' in the Free World," this song was written about tornadoes in Toronto, making you feel surrounded by the wave of mistrust in society and young people's anxiety.  A true rocker, you can't deny the band's heritage as a rock'n'roll band with this one.
Moving on to Neil Young's "Harvest Moon," we have the sweetly enchanting "Wasted Hours."  Comforting you after the turbulent ride through the storm of the previous track, you will be thankful for this song.  This is a slow piece with real musical integrity; the contrast is nothing short of masterful.  It's also slightly similar to some of the newest M. Ward, only, again, better.  (Sorry guy, you're great, but it's true.)
 Picking up the pace a bit to prepare for some more rock awesomeness, "Deep Blue" has an incredible piano arrangement mixed with higher male vocals moving into some excellent strings and guitar.  It may make you think twice about what you see on TV news (even if you're one of those people that actually watches and enjoys Fox & Friends.)
Outstanding keyboard and vox open "We Used to Wait."  Layering terrific guitar and bass with a steady beat, you're drawn in by a switch to a fantastical melody which continues to build throughout the song.  Stings enter after two verses rounding out a killer chorus and giving us one hell of a tune.  You might think track number 13 on a 16-track album would be sloppy and boring, but that couldn't be further from the truth here.
"Sprawl I" is a stunning display of Mr. Butler's vocal abilities, a track that reminds you why this band is known for subtle yet amazing arrangements and astounding musical creativity.  Somber and revealing, this seems to be about the darker side of suburban life, making you feel on edge while listening, yet at the same time you're marveling at the beauty of this brief musical expression.
My absolute favorite track is "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)."  Regine stars in this outstanding synth-rock beauty.  Reminiscent of Kate Bush (The Dreaming) and a bit Cyndi Lauper and Soft Cell, this is strong yet pretty, electronic and rocking.  You fell the pressure of stuffy, over crowded neighborhoods, but you want to dance with the keys that are just sheer genius.  Featuring even more incredibly subtle guitar and bass work, this song is one of their most focused tracks.  We get our favorite face-melting spiral into musical insanity about 3/4 of the way through this masterpiece, and Regine's voice never wavers.  I get chills every damn time!
Finally, "The Suburbs Continued" is an alluring, peaceful closer on this musical roller coaster ride through society's most popular urban areas and not so rural towns.
Once in a while, an album comes along that has been talked about and hyped up for months or years before its release, only to be a monumental disappointment.  Well, have no fear, because The Suburbs absolutely delivers.  It is so far beyond any expectations I had, I almost cried when I first heard it (embarrassing but true.)  There is divine power, emotion, breathtaking vocals and musical arrangements, and a salient depth that most bands releasing albums today seriously lack.  If you only buy one album this year, I'd ask for you to pick this one.  You will not regret it!

Love and peace,

P.S.  DO NOT MISS THIS- Arcade Fire live from Madison Square Garden at 9pm central time here:

Buy here:)

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