Arcade on Fire

August 12, 2010

The new record from Montreal’s Arcade Fire, The Suburbs, has debuted at number 1 on the US, UK, and Canadian charts this week. They also apparently topped out the bestseller lists on iTunes and Amazon. I am not sure, but I think this might be a record for an indie band (that is, a band with no major label distribution). It is pretty amazing, in any case.

The success of the band is both satisfying and slightly amusing to me. It is satisfying because I am happy to see them doing well. I have a friend who has, for many years, been good friends with several of the band’s members, and it so happens that, in the days before they hit it big with their first record Funeral, I met them a few times at birthday parties and so forth. We took them ice cream at their recording studio. When they came through town on the Funeral tour, I helped my friend sell t-shirts after the concert. That sort of thing. I don’t “know” the band members in any meaningful sense, but I did see firsthand how they were living in a dumpy part of town, driving a rattling old van,  scraping by in order to make the music that they loved, and it is great to see them reaping a healthy harvest.

The source of amusement in all of this is self-deprecating in nature: I never had the foggiest premonition that they would make it big. Mentally I compared them to The Flaming Lips or The Rheostatics; in the last few weeks I have seen them compared in print to Bruce Springsteen and U2. Apparently the calibration of my success-o-meter was way, way off. That I did not pursue a career as a talent scout is, on this evidence, a profound blessing.

I have heard the new record once, and my first impressions are mixed. It is a concept album, at least loosely, about growing up in suburban America.  It is not, as one might suspect from a band that has been embraced by the latte-sipping, NPR-listening, coastal sophisticates, an indictment of suburban life.  No, there is clearly something honest and thoughtful going on, and that is to their credit. The musical textures, however, are not much to my liking: too busy and elaborate. That’s a matter of taste. As with their previous records, this one sounds like it has been channeled through a lo-fi filter. It must be intentional, but I am not sure why one would intend such a thing. Still, when an album garners reviews as enthusiastic as this one, it behooves one to give it a second and third hearing.  In the end, it hardly matters whether the music appeals to me or not.  I wish them all the best.

Here’s the video for the new record’s title track:

UPDATE: A better version of the song, from a recent concert in New York, is here.

2 Responses to “Arcade on Fire”

  1. Christina A. Says:

    Holy cow, are you actually venturing into contemporary pop culture?? Well, this is sort of alternative contemporary pop culture, but still!

    In any case, I hadn’t heard this before, so thanks for sharing. I like it though I’m not fully sure what all the lyrics mean. Generally it seems to me to express a disappointment with a dream for a peaceful, safe, benign American life that was never really possible, so I like it. The fun part of the video is that it has houses that look like my house when it was young and I think the way it’s recorded is to make it sound like how music sounded when I was young too. (ie. vinyl-ey)

    Do you ever wonder when you drive through the vast expanses of your own Gotham City that it will one day be like the city of C. S. Lewis’ hell? Or when all these cardboard box houses will have to be simply bulldozed and entire neighborhoods re-built or left abandoned?

  2. cburrell Says:

    Yes, I think they must be going for the (worn) vinyl sound. Musically the record is a real dog’s breakfast of styles, including the synth pop that was popular in the early 1980s. I am not kidding.

    I used to hope that my Gotham would become at least a little bit abandoned — so that house prices would fall and we could buy one. Now that we’ve bought one, I don’t hope that anymore. I don’t foresee the wide-scale abandonment of the suburbs during my life-time, though I suppose it might happen eventually, when people recover their senses and move to the country, or are killed by a virus.

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