Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Record for the Ages: Arcade Fire - Funeral

And I'm serious, folks, this is a Record for the Ages. As the top record of the past decade (see previous entry), it inherently lends itself to some sort of distinction, but it's much more than that. This is simply one of the best records to ever grace the press. Others may disagree, but this would definitely be in my Top 50 records ever, if not Top 20. What this record achieves is boundless...Arcade Fire, on Funeral, achieved something entirely rare in music which must be commended.

On a broad note, most reviews classify this record as "art-pop" or some other derivative. But at the core, this record is has a strong, strong punk influence. See the way Neighborhoods #1-3 barrel along, the pure emotion, the strain of life bearing heavy weight upon Win Butler's voice, and the way the rest of the band responds, and then we see the punk. Even many of the slower tracks ("Une année sans lumière," "Crown of Love") eventually up the speed and the ante as they continue along. Pure feeling. Just because there is a certain lack of distorted guitars does not discount a record for being "punk" in influence. The Clash started out in the prototypical mold but quickly disproved that with their increased incorporation of reggae into their punk music without losing what they were.

While inherently punk has been increasingly political, the sad trend is that punk has become less personal, but it is in that realm where Funeral is armed to the teeth. Deaths in the family, along with happiness (Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the two main members of Arcade Fire, had gotten married), lend themselves to existential ponderings on growing up ("Wake Up"), leaving your homeland ("Haïti"), and (perhaps obviously) death in the family ("In the Backseat"). The most remarkable aspect of the existential nature of Funeral is that it fails to become trite. Exploit the tack too much, and your record becomes far too contrived, . Perhaps the record avoids that with its inherently compelling backstory, but to me, the band plays with such urgency and feeling that it is impossible to not give them the benefit of the doubt.

It's true that the album is essentially indie-pop (whatever that means) despite its punk bent. Strings swirl around the band as they quest through existence, and the grandoise and precise arrangements tend towards the efforts of the genre. This is, however, a record that relies much more on the entire sound collage to work its magic, with no real instrument or player commonly taking command outside of Win's or Régine's vocals (and at points, the backing vocals).

And it's that singular sense of bodiment that allows the listener to buy wholeheartedly into the record. A sinister sense of desolation permeates the record, which leaves just you and the record you're listening to (and perhaps whoever you're listening to it with). Perhaps for that reason alone when you hear the record you get pulled in. But perhaps moreover it's that the record tugs at strings that all humans carry, and by pulling those strings each and every listener gets pulled into this record.

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