By: Molly Smith
Reflektor’s full, well-rounded, and dynamic sound left me stuck to the couch for an hour without any movement, because from start to finish this piece of work is entertaining and interesting enough on its own to be appreciated with stillness. Three years have passed since Grammy award winning The Suburbs commented on isolation, suburban sprawl, conformity, and materialism, and now Arcade Fire is back and rife with opinions on religious mind control, existentialism, and misplaced hope in the afterlife. With its jarring questions, experiments with electro-rock, and direct attitude, Reflektor may be Arcade Fire’s best work yet as it allows even more space for them to grow.
There’s something really cool about a title track opening an album. “Reflektor” is especially effective here because it is blatantly about the inability to get into heaven, which is an image we see throughout the entire work. Less traditional instruments are used on top of the expected Arcade Fire setup, showing how this album is going to stay true to its roots but also experiment outside the box. “We Exist” starts off cooly and carefree, gains momentum in the chorus, and aches with desperation to “just let us through.” A personal favorite because of its odd percussiveness is “Flashbulb Eyes”. Chimes fade in and out, and the repetitive hit and release feels just like a sharp flash and its recovery. For the first time, we experience a showcase of the horns, which comes as a delightful surprise. The end transitions with complete flawlessness into “Here Comes the Night Time”, which ruthlessly criticizes the in/out mentality in mainstream religion, as the gates of heaven are shut to them. Their core belief becomes clear in Butler’s question, “if there’s no music up in heaven then what’s it for?” revealing that they choose to worship the beauty and power of music instead of conforming to an institution that they see as corrupt.
To criticize how our conformist society makes us question ourselves, “Normal Person” darkly exposes how perceived normalcy is an impossible goal that breaks people down into emotionless, expressionless zombies. The normal ones “get excited / they try and hide it,” which brings back an appreciation of individuality seen in the past three albums as well. The influence of cultural norms are shown as a crushing force, that will “break you down” even when fought against. As the song comes to a close, it sounds like the end of a fabricated recording, which makes us question what is real and truthful.
“Joan of Arc” reveals a certain affirmation toward this religious figure above other ones, perhaps because she is unconventionally young and female. The repeated french lines by Regine Chassange are a perfect showcase of Aracde Fire’s multidimensional mix of cultures and vocalists. This song is probably the most rock n’ roll of the whole album, and could probably be accepted best by a radio audience. In contrast, the track “Here Comes the Night Time II” that follows is a frightening and beautiful reprise that involves whispers, repetition, low strings, a lack of resolutions, and moves slowly like a dream. However, it’s hopeful in a weird and almost creepy kind of way, and each unresolved chord forces us to fill in the blanks ourselves.
If you’ve had one of those nightmares where you’re free falling off the edge of a cliff and you jolt awake right before hitting the ground, “Awful Sound” will probably take you right back to that feeling. With a sense of urgency, carefree la la’s play over a screeching that never really comes to its climax, giving us the feeling of a near-death experience. Returning to the motif of dying and the afterlife, this song sounds and feels like an ending of life, as the listener abruptly enters into unexpected silence.
“It’s Never Over” features a call and response between Butler and Chassange, and they fittingly repeat the line, “it’s never over” for so long that it seems that the song will not end, however, it concludes with a powerful: “it’s over too soon,” which could likely represent the unexpected ending of hope, life, or any myriad of things that we don’t really think are ever going to end.
My personal favorite because of it’s unique consistency is “Porno”, and it laments a trapped human condition and ruined innocence. The strings make an appearance once again, but not in the normal, climatic, Arcade Fire-ish kind of way. Instead, their presence serves a more basic purpose in this electronic, experimental jam. “Afterlife” is the most unlike other songs on the album because of its tribal percussion and acoustic guitar layered on top of a drum machine. As the beats get heavier, the song transitions into a more electronic mood, then later it moves into more of a 1960’s ballad. This kind of flexibility within one single track is a major success on behalf of Arcade Fire, and it should inspire radical creativity in all who encounter it.
Though it takes a few minutes before it picks up, “Supersymmetry” is a calm and eerie conclusion to Reflektor with intentional silence, odd and creeping noises, and a focus on eternity and the infinite. Maybe I’m dense or just missing something, but I don’t really get why there is so much silence in this song. The transition into it is not intentional enough to make the purpose clear. If it ended at minute 5:00, the album would be nearly perfect.
Second-person pronouns create an inclusive call to action for the audience, with words like “we” and “you” instead of “I” or “me.” Each song changes tempo and moods, even without traditional key changes. And most importantly, Reflektor gently scares the shit out of me. Arcade Fire has never been more in-your-face about the messages it wants us to contemplate and act upon, and this parallels Reflektor’s bold and experimental musical techniques as well.