It’s been nearly three years since the release of “Reflektor”, Arcade Fire’s fourth album. Everything leading up to the album’s release was incredibly exciting if you were even a casual Arcade Fire fan. I remember some of the things that stand out that propelled my excitement for the album at the time:
- It was going to be a double album with a runtime of nearly an hour and a half
- The pre-release promotional stuff was everywhere
- Arcade Fire performed on Saturday Night Live prior to the release, and NBC even gave them a half-hour special that aired directly afterwords that featured a number of stars.
- Rolling Stone gave the album a glowing review a month before it was released
- All the singles released were very promising
The album dropped, and I bought it on CD. It’s one of the last albums I physically bought on CD, and one of the last albums I remember actually getting crazy excited about while waiting for it to drop. We now live in a world where surprise album drops are the new norm (thanks Beyonce, U2, and Frank Ocean), which makes “Reflektor”‘s pre-release promotional blitz look a bit old-school now, but at the time it was very effective in rallying Arcade Fire fans to get behind the buzz.
“Reflektor” doesn’t disappoint.
It was released my senior year of college, a time in which I was trying to answer a lot of “what’s next?” questions. “Reflektor” was an escape, a chance to take my mind off of asking “what am I going to do with the rest of my life?”. And when I listen to it now, I’m instantly brought back to who I was three years ago. To me, “Reflektor” is a time capsule.
But it’s also so much more. It’s the album that lead me to become a LCD Soundsystem fan because of James Murphy’s involvement. You can hear plenty of cues from this album in the fantastic film “Her”, a score which went on to get nominated for an Academy Award (and should’ve won in my opinion). It’s an album with an expansive soundscape that draws inspiration from many sources. It plays as both an indie-rock and dance album.
But most importantly, “Reflektor” takes you on a journey – one that starts with what appears to be fun, but continues to spiral down a midst of self-reflection of the anxieties we all face.
Let’s get to the track by track.
And we’re off the races with this catchy, turn-up-the-friggin-radio title track. Arcade Fire amps up the James Murphy effect in this one, and it sounds like something that could come off of a LCD Soundsystem album. Oh, and David Bowie is on this track performing vocals. “Reflektor” encapsulates what makes music fun, and is a genuinely good song.
“We Exist”: B+
“We Exist” keeps the energy unleashed by “Reflektor” moving with this explosive, pulsing track. The first two tracks alone create a buzz that is sustained over the rest of Side One – a buzz that is a bit of a distraction as the lyrics continue to spiral further into confusion and darkness. Of course – this distraction is welcome, and creates a very visceral listening experience. And yes, the bassline sounds like it was ripped from “Billie Jean”.
“Flashbulb Eyes”: B-
“Flashbulb Eyes” isn’t a standout track in the grand scheme of things, exploring overtly what is lost in an age where everything is recorded. It’s definitely a reflective track, which is expected on an album about reflection, but it doesn’t really have any substantive depth to it. The steel drums are awesome though.
“Here Comes the Night Time”: A
If “Reflektor” is the title-track on this album, “Here Comes the Night Time” is the vice title-track. In my mind, “Here Comes the Night Time” encapsulates everything Arcade Fire tried to achieve with this album. It includes a mix of dance rhythms and contemplative melodies, a heavy influence of Haitian music, and lyrics that can be interpreted as fun on one hand, and dark as hell on the other. It is equally hopeful as it is hopeless. It’s such a great dichotomous track that acts as both a standout reflective piece on an album about reflection and a sampler of everything that is great about this album.
“Normal Person”: B-
“Normal Person” reminds me of “Modern Man”, a track off Arcade Fire’s third album, “The Suburbs”. Both tracks are catchy as hell. Both tracks have you thinking “Damn that was awesome” after your first listen. And both tracks have you second guessing yourself with every subsequent listen. Neither songs are subtle at all in examining how one fits in with societal norms. I find the lyrics bothersome on both tracks. And yet, like I said, they are both catchy as hell. Turn up the volume all the way and you’ll see what I mean.
“You Already Know”: B
If “We Exist” stole the bassline from “Billie Jean”, “You Already Know” stole pretty much everything but the lyrics from “Maneater”. I can’t be the only one that notices this…right?
“Joan of Arc”: B
A solid closer to Side One, and the last real ‘rocker’ on the album before things get really serious on Side Two. Remember when I said the energy from the first two tracks can distract you from how serious things are as Side One goes on? If you aren’t starting to feel some sort of dread by this point, you probably are still distracted. Don’t worry. Side Two will squash the heck out of that quickly.
“Here Comes the Night Time II”: C+
Look, I get the point of this track. It’s there as a transition, a “Welcome to Side Two”, if you will. It’s there to contrast the same track on Side One, and to drive home the message that “Yes, Side One had some fun songs, but Side Two is getting real serious real quick”. I don’t dislike this track by any means – when I listen to the album as a whole, its function is clear and it works – but it’s not a track I’m going to seek out to listen to on its own.
“Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”: A
This song is like one big, intense crescendo, building and building and building, and continuing to build even after you think it’s hit its climax. It’s a beautiful song, and when it hits it’s “Na naaaa na na naaa” refrain at the end, it’s got you swept up completely.
“It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”: A-
“Awful Sound” and this track are companion pieces, and they complement each other very well. They remind me of the song “Pyramids” on Frank Ocean’s “Channel Orange” – a long track that essentially contains two different songs that tell one cohesive story. I can only imagine if Arcade Fire did something similar, combining these tracks into one long one and giving it a name like “Orpheus and Eurydice”. Regardless, this song matches “Awful Sound” in terms of beauty and structure. If “Awful Sound” is one big crescendo, “It’s Never Over” is the decrescendo. It’s hard not to listen to these two songs together – (*adjusts glasses*) – which on an album about reflection and symmetry makes a lot of sense.
Sonically, “Porno” doesn’t really fit in on Side Two. In fact, it wouldn’t really fit in with Side One either. “Porno” is a bit of an oddball when compared to everything else on this album, but it works. It’s a solid song that really conveys both a sense of sleaziness and longing, as well as one of defeated acceptance. The underlying rhythms are catchy as hell (there’s quite a bit going on here), and the strings are a welcome addition. It’s a bit of a jarring track after the emotional mini-journey of “Awful Sound” and “It’s Never Over”, kind of snapping you back to a dark reality without the oddly comforting feeling of melancholy. There’s no redemption in “Porno”, but it is one of Arcade Fire’s best tracks.
Released before the album came out, this is the track that really got me the most excited for “Reflektor”. It’s a gorgeous song that moves along at a great pace. It’s a song that excels at creating a feeling in the listener. I’m not sure what that feeling is though. I’ve heard this song in all sorts of moods, and it works on many different levels. The lyrics are a bit on the nose, but “Afterlife” is a great example of what kinds of sounds Arcade Fire makes best. The soundscape reminds me a bit of “Sprawl II” on “The Subarbs” (easily one of Arcade Fire’s top 3 best songs) in the sense that it conveys a forward-moving feeling that I can only compare to Mario being pushed along by the ever-moving background in a Mario video game. You’re swept up and lost in the audible aura. After moving through a number of emotional highs and lows on the album, “Afterlife” is “Reflektor”‘s climax.
We’ve made it folks. After well over an hour, “Reflektor” closes on this calming conclusion. “Supersymmetry” makes one last attempt at driving home the reflection motif, if you haven’t gotten by now. It’s a great contrast to the explosive opening track of this album. The contrast of the opening and closing tracks further encapsulate just how different Side One and Side Two are. “Reflektor” is truly a double album in the sense that both “albums” are offering us something unique. And yet, the two sides to this album belong together. Neither of these Sides could have worked on their own without the other, and while they sound completely different, they both tell a similar story, making Side One and Side Two…supersymmetical. Okay, I’m done.
Overall Album Grade: A-