Wednesday, February 1, 2006

Records In Review: The Arcade Fire--Funeral

All right, a day late and a dollar short, but hype brings out my contrarian side. And don't worry, I'll keep this short.

(read my review of The AF's first ep here!)

I've tried very hard with this record but I just can't get close to it, and I doubt if I'll ever have reason to listen to it again. I have a certain admiration for its construction, but I'm not sure what the big whoop is. I'd broadly describe Funeral as the offspring of New Order and Modest Mouse, with a little gene replacement therapy courtesy of The Flaming Lips and Neil Young (is that a tautology?). It's broad stroke music with a lot of detail--the former is dominant--mixed in a pot to create a veritable wall of sound, making it a great album to play at volume, that's for sure. It's much more direct and less whimsical than the first ep, and there's more emphasis on the guitar and less empty space in the mix. Singer Win Butler still sounds like a caffeinated whiny-pants, which doesn't do my ears or blood pressure any good. Prejudices about the voice are the hardest to overcome and I'm too old to change now.

I think it's the imbalance in favour of the broad strokes that's a turn-off for me. A number of the songs, like "Wake Up" and "Neighbourhood #4 (7 Kettles)" involve weighty burdens of drama being carried by fairly basic song and chord structures, even if the sonic layering is nice. One interesting aspect of the album is the relationship between the three-piece new wave ching-ching-ching-ching and the wrap-around instrumentation of (variously) mallet percussion, piano, weepy strings and booming guitars and basses; I'm thinking here of "Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)" and "Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)," the beat and guitar of which reminds me of a particular crappy New Order song...but these are both good. Also good 'n' pretty is "Une Annee Sans Lumiere," which benefits from being less melodramatic than some of its colleagues. "Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)," a quasi-hymnal reminiscent of "Old Flame" from the previous record, is one of the best and builds at its own pace. I get bored during the second half of the disc. Only the smash-hit "Rebellion (Lies)" piques my interest with its energy and earnestness. "Haiti" reprises the rhythms from "Power Out" in a gentler and less interesting form. "Crown Of Love" sucks donkey balls.

To each his own, I guess, but there isn't a song here that I prefer to "No Cars Go" from the band's rookie disc. I respect Funeral in many ways but I don't particularly like it. Oh well: I'm sure I'll get with the zeitgeist one day.

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