3D Great Rock Bible
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Arcade Fire 

+ {Will Butler} + {Jeremy Gara}

As large group ensembles go (The PLASTIC ONO BAND and The POLYPHONIC SPREE are two that spring to mind), Canadian collective ARCADE FIRE are certainly up there as the best and most creative. Going by some of their metaphorical titles/sub-titles (`Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)’ and the TALKING HEADS-esque `Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’ for example), the group achieve a detached and passionate literacy uncommon in most of today’s indie-cum-arena acts.
Formed June 2003 in Montreal, Quebec, by multi-instrumentalist songwriting team Win Butler (grandson of exotica/swing-era jazz guitarist Alvino Rey) and his Haitian-descended wife-to-be Regine Chassagne, the pair duly recruited organist Richard Reed Parry (of BELL ORCHESTRE), bassist Myles Broscoe, drummers Dane Mills and Brendan Reed, synth/percussionist Will Butler (Win’s younger brother) and occasional friends/guests (Tim Kyle, Gregus Davenport and Liza Rey) to their expansive legion.
The band condensed their avant-garde, new wave and native French-Canadian influences into an eponymous, self-financed, 7-song debut mini-CD, ARCADE FIRE (2003) {*7}. As cerebral and yearning as peak-era BEACH BOYS, the disjointed hypnotic harmonies shine out from the likes of `Old Flame’, `I’m Sleeping In A Submarine’, the 7-minute `Vampire / Forest Fire’ and the first version of the very PREFAB SPROUT-esque `No Cars Go’. Almost immediately after its release, the Butlers, Chassagne and Parry substituted auxiliary members for BELL ORCHESTRE violinist Sarah Neufeld, Timothy Kingsbury (bass and guitars) and Howard Bilerman (drums and guitar).
Doubtless on the strength of hearing the debut EP/mini-set, Chapel Hill-based US indie Merge Records proffered a deal, generating an almost universal critical consensus with the delivery of debut album, FUNERAL (2004) {*9} – named so due to recent deaths in the family (Alvino Rey, Regine’s grandmother and Parry’s aunt). British fans had to make do with imports until a re-ignited Rough Trade fanned the flames with a general release early in 2005. Like a new wave chamber-music reincarnation of The HANDSOME FAMILY, the Butler-Chassagne aesthetic jerked to the dysfunctional groove of early TALKING HEADS and reeked of quasi-Gallic intrigue/WATERBOYS-esque Celtic mysticism, flaying the competition with a series of bizarrely/baroquely-linked “Neighborhood” themed hit singles/tracks. Epic in scale and anthemic of chorus, successive UK hit singles, `Rebellion (Lies)’ and `Wake Up’, rekindled the album`s chart pyre; early B-side covers included `Brazil’ (Ary Baroso & Ed Russell) and `This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)’ (TALKING HEADS).
With drummer Jeremy Gara (also on guitar and bass) in place for Bilerman, ARCADE FIRE were ready for the ever-difficult sophomore set. NEON BIBLE (2007) {*7} went straight to No.2 in both the American and British charts, boosted in no small way by limited 7” singles, `Keep The Car Running’, `Intervention’ and a re-vamped `No Cars Go’. Influenced by the unlikely patronage of fan DAVID BOWIE, the “Suffragette City”-like `Black Mirror’ opened the set, while the ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN-esque `The Well And The Lighthouse’ paralleled another time another place; single collectors might like to search out their rare non-LP version of SERGE GAINSBOURG’s `Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son’.
Indulging in politics as supporters of US President-in-waiting Barack Obama in 2008, the group spiralled upwards once again with their chart-topping third set, THE SUBURBS (2010) {*9}, their paean to childhood and middle-class aspirations. Led out by the glorious title track, inspired by the Butler’s suburban-ite upbringing in Houston, Texas, the conceptual themes running through the hour-long set were best served by `We Used To Wait’, `Suburban War’, `Half Light II (No Celebration)’, `Rococo’, the NEIL YOUNG-esque `Wasted Hours’ and the Regine-sung `Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’.
ARCADE FIRE balance enthralling quick-fire tunes with tracks to last a lifetime; this was never more the case for the quirky combo’s fourth album, REFLEKTOR (2013) {*9}. Bolstered by the opening title track hit (featuring a “Sound & Vision” cameo from BOWIE) and surely more to follow, the double-set shuffled through French-styled retro-disco, The CLASH-like bounce-beat of `We Exist’ and the dub-addled rhythms provided by James Murphy (LCD SOUNDSYSTEM) and ENO collaborator Marcus Dravis for `Flashbulb Eyes’. These alone were reasons enough to be cheerful. Track number four, `Here Comes The Night Time’, possessed a carnival at night-time approach, blown away by the feedback on arena alt-rock special, `Normal Person’, and a couple of ARCADE FIRE treasures in the perky `You Already Know’ (procuring a “live” intro by TV presenter Jonathan Ross) and the punk-intro’d arpeggio of `Joan Of Arc’ – destined to be chart-toppers if ever released in this dated format. And that was only disc one! Disc two served to play down their commercial flourish, and while one might be at first tempted to use it was a Frisbee, the pulsating 80s-grooved-out slow-burners, such as the anthemic `It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’, `Afterlife’ and the OMD-like `Porno’, rise to take the prize. 2013’s best album? – maybe!
As in previous days of yore and in a long line of alumni taking a hiatus by way of a solo set – and straight from a Grammy nomination with OWEN PALLETT for their soundtrack to the film, Her – brother WILL BUTLER took his omnivorous look on life for POLICY (2015) {*6}. While one might’ve expected more than its 8 songs in under half an hour, Will swept the broom cupboard of his mind for tracks that combined a sense of anger, love and hilarity; punk-rock’n’roll opener `Take My Side’ or the DEVO-esque `Anna’ stood out, but apart from `Son Of God’ and `What I Want’ everything else was not of ARCADE FIRE’s high standards – and much too short!
Substantially longer in length, multi-instrumentalist JEREMY GARA’s concept mp3 set, LIMN (2016) {*5}, painted a more abstract picture, its carnival of colours avant-garde and off-kilter from anything from the pop-rock palette of ARCADE FIRE. Cinematic and left-field, its dark tsunami woofers and tweeters touched on horror and/or sci-fi for the likes of `Chicago’ and `The Dupe’; a sweeping 11 minutes of `The Gate’ far from what would be expected of a drummer.
© MC Strong 2006/ERD // rev-up MCS June2012-Nov2013-Mar2015

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