What an outstanding and eclectic collection of new releases this week! What should be considered a legendary band, the under-appreciated Living Colour release their 6th studio album “Shade” today (this is the music I went to first to hear), San Francisco indie-rockers Deerhoof are presenting their 15th album in 20 years“Mountain Moves”, laughing at Deerhoof’s longevity, L.A. experimental synth band Sparks celebrate the 46thanniversary of their first album release with the new LP “Hippopotamus”, speaking of longevity, Neil Younghas a collection of solo acoustic recordings from ’76 out today with “Hitchhiker” (sounds great btw), laid back singer/songwriter Jack Johnson’s 7th album is out today “All the Light Above It Too”, one of my favorite two person bands Death From Above (now minus the “1979”) unleash their 3rd album “Outrage! Is Now”,Canadian indie noise-pop band Alvvays have upped their game on their sophomore album “Antisocialites” and last but not least The National attempt to inject a few welcomed raucous sounds into their 7th album “Sleep Well Beast” to hopefully ensure they don’t become solely featured as background music at hipster dinner parties.
Ok, I’m featuring the latest album from Arcade Fire this week, “Everything Now”. I hesitated, thinking this band is popular enough that everyone is probably familiar with them. But in actuality, I’m guessing many of you may not have listened to much of this band. And if you have, their sound has been changing quite a lot over their last few albums. First formed back in 2003 in Montreal, Arcade Fire has evolved from indie rock royalty into mainstream popularity over the course of their 5 studio albums. And that journey is one that is bound to leave some fans behind, since indie darlings finding commercial success is a sure way to cause some divisiveness. The band has an interesting beginning – Win Butler (bandleader/singer) spotted Regine Chassagne singing jazz at an art exhibit. He was charmed, they started a songwriting partnership and then a personal partnership (and eventually marriage).
They then recruited other members for their new band, including Win’s younger brother William. Since the band members had many eclectic tastes, these different influences were incorporated into their music. So you had bossa nova, punk, French chanson and pop influencing their sound. You can hear elements of U2, David Bowie, Talking Heads and other influences. After cutting an EP, they signed with Merge Records.
The band unfortunately had a run of deaths unfold prior to recording their first LP – four members had relatives pass. These deaths sparked their first album aptly titled “Funeral”. “Funeral” blew-up from a critical perspective which also led to some commercial success. Arcade Fire played Lollapalooza, Coachella and everywhere in between.
They made the Canadian cover of Time magazine and received a Grammy nomination for best alternative album. They toured with U2 and counted David Bowie as one of their fans. For their follow-up, they camped in a church outside of Montreal and recorded “Neon Bible”, which featured a pipe organ, military choir and a full orchestra.
This album peaked at #2 on the charts and they continued to tour relentlessly. They put on a great live show, so all of their touring definitely continued to grow their fan base. Record #3, “The Suburbs”, with its themes of suburban sprawl, childhood memories and middle-class dreams led to #1 charting positions in the U.S. and U.K. The band also earned many rewards, including a Grammy for album of the year. They were now selling out shows all around the globe. For album #4 (a double album), “Reflektor”, they brought on James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) to produce. This was more dance-oriented and brought in a lot of world music sounds. After another ambitious world tour, that brings us to today and their most recent album “Everything Now”.
This album has been the least critically-received of any of their albums to date. But I think that’s to be expected, given where the band is today. Once you reach the level of popularity Arcade Fire is at, there are many people waiting to take you down. Also, if you change your sound up, you always run the risk of people being disappointed because they liked your old sound better.
Now the album isn’t getting completely panned, there are plenty of stellar reviews mixed in with the naysayers – there are just more naysayers than in the past. Personally, I really enjoy this album. I understand what the band was trying to accomplish and I like the overlying themes of the album which are statements about today’s society.
There are songs that reflect the demands for wanting everything right here, right now, wanting to be famous (or at least have a big social media presence) or life’s not worth living, not knowing what you want but wanting everything anyway, access to infinite content, and finding meaning in today’s world.
The band brought in multiple producers including Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk), Geoff Barrow (Portishead), Steve Mackey (Pulp) and longtime collaborator Markus Dravs. The album definitely has a solid groove and danceability that is continued from “Reflektor”. There is less of a world music influence and more of a disco vibe going on. Maybe this is an element that turned some off? Maybe it’s the themes the band is tackling – too big in scope? Any critique on modern-day society is going to have its naysayers.
At the end of the day, I think many critics just wanted something to complain about regarding Arcade Fire, because the band is too big now to meet everyone’s objectives. If they were a new band and they released “Everything Now”, it would have created an unbelievable positive buzz in the music world. But we all know that is not the case, and the resulting critiques are what they are.
At any rate, Arcade Fire have their 3rd #1 album and a solid addition to their catalog. I say just enjoy the album for what it is – a solid piece of pop music making a statement about some of the themes going on in today’s society that can also be fun to dance to. Here are 3 of my favorite songs from “Everything Now” that all appear at the beginning of the album.
“Everything Now” – The lead track and single from the album, this song has a joyful sound. I think this is a good example of some past elements of the band’s music evolving into their current sound. Produced by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, this song sounds great. Listen to all of the different instruments that are incorporated throughout this track.
“Signs of Life” – You definitely hear the disco influence on this track. Also produced by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter. I like the chorus on this song – “looking for signs of life every night, there’s no signs of life, so we’ll do it again”. This song has a little bit darker feel, with the prominent bass and slightly ominous synths. They may have been influenced by previous producer James Murphy on this song. Nice handclaps at the beginning.
“Creature Comfort” – The track rounds out the first 3 on the album (not counting the intro at the very beginning). Interesting note, the album was recorded so the ending rolls right into the beginning intro. So if you listen on repeat, there will be no break in the flow. My favorite lyric “God just make me famous and if you can’t, just make it painless”. I’m hearing a big Talking Heads influence on this track. Chassagne’s background vocals are a great contrast. Geoff Barrow from Portishead produced this track. Interestingly I don’t hear Portishead at all, but I do like the production on the song.