Key Tracks: Reflektor, Joan of Arc, You Already Know
If you have ever wanted or needed an album with more than one six plus minute song, this album is for you. Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” not only captives the lost concept of an album as an art form rather than a grouping of singles, but it joins this seemingly perfect union between the real and unreal with popping synth and echoing lyrics. It’s a surprisingly twisted fantasy wrapped into two six track albums in one. Confused yet?
“Reflektor” is the fourth studio album by Arcade Fire released on Merge Records, an independent record label based out of Durham, North Carolina. It is a double album recorded with LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy, Markus Dravs, and the rest of the band. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Win Butler, the frontman, stated, “The record is really long. We intended to make a short record and we ended up with 18 songs that were all between six and eight minutes and we were like, ‘Uh oh, I think we screwed up making a short record.’ Splitting it over the two halves enables you to get into the different worlds of the records.” The album is heavily influenced by Haitian rara music, “Black Orpheus” (a 1959 film adapted by the Greek mythological legend of Orpheus and Eurydice,) and a Kierkegaard essay called “The Present Age.” The cover art is a statue with Orpheus and Eurydice on front of a reflecting holographic black screen.
The first album chimes in with their first single and namesake for the album. You can’t be impatient with this album. You have to let it unwrap itself. The first line, “Trapped in a prison in a prism of light,” seems to be a reference to Pink Floyd’s album “Dark Side of the Moon.” However, it could also be a reference to the NSA’s program to monitor internet communication called PRISM, as the album is constantly littered with references to internet privacy and how we have lost touch with personal communication. The following line, “Alone in the darkness, darkness of light,” is a direct reference to being alone in the darkness in front of the computer screen. The crazy science-y nerds understand that prism extract white light which is also the same hue that computer screens extract especially during the night. Thus, in comparison, white, as we know, is the opposite of darkness yet an extraction of all the colors. So, what seems to be great (i.e. technology, computers, internet…) is the opposite of the dark age yet the longing to not be “alone” forever still hinders our minds.
There are also french lines in this track. “Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore/ Entre le royaume des vivants et des morts.” When translated, the line reads, “Between the night, night and dawn/ Between the kingdoms, of the living and of the dead.” Basically, Arcade Fire is stating that “we” are living but are not fully living. We are communicating but not really communicating. The life we live through the digital age, this reflector age, is not truly living but actually in a state of purgatory. The subtle wordplay for the line can be misconstrued for “l’ennui et l’horreur” as in between boredom and horror. This purgatory we live in, living but not really living, is a metaphor representing the boredom of human life in this age also seen in literature like Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” and George Orwell’s “1984.” Basically, we know our friends and family, not because we ask them and have conversations with them, but because we click on Facebook and read about their lives. We aren’t really living but living for what Facebook says about us.
It’s a difficult thing coming off the Grammy Award winning “The Suburbs.” It’s a clear and urgent message. The depth is there, but “Reflektor” has something that “The Suburbs” doesn’t. Their new album is the perfect combination of their already prominent indie-rock sound with a psychedelic synth, whispering vocals, and a traveling bass. The album not only answers the overarching question of, “Where are they now?” but the question of “Where are they going?”
“We Exist” and “Flashbulb Eyes” follow the title track. The track, “Normal Person,” is also worth mentioning. It starts with an intro, “Do you like Rock N Roll music?/ Cause I don’t know if I do.” The constant self-reflection or “Am I a normal person?” is stated over and over again in the track. The line, “I’m so confused. Am I a normal person?” was inspired by a conversation Win had with owners of a Bed & Breakfast in Jamaica. The woman he was talking to asked him, “Oh you’re not in one of those weird bands? You’re normal people, right?” The concept of “normal” in our day and age is relative, and quite frankly, an imaginary place. It simply does not exist. However, to many outsiders, a white indie-rocker seems “normal,” especially to Jamaican musicians. The track, “You Already Know,” is found on many playlists and tracks of 2013.
The last track on the first album is “Joan of Arc.” The song is multifaceted. First, it tells the story of Joan of Arc. If you slept through History class, Joan of Arc was a French woman who was inspired by a vision from God when she was young to drive out the English and reclaim France like a savior to her people. Secondly, it compares Arcade Fire to that of a Joan of Arc-esque figure in alternative rock. Although they have constantly denied their appearance of a savior-like figure to indie music, the relationship between the fans and Arcade Fire appears to be so. Those who follow Arcade Fire are dedicated to the core as if to be a cult to indie music. Before the album came out, many “hardcore” fans would deface public property with the word “Reflektor” in a diamond shape throughout many metropolitan areas. The song even states the reality of “fair weather” fans in the lyrics: “First they love you/ then they kill you/ then they love you again.”
The second album in the set starts with “Here Comes the Night Time II,” echoing the track “Here Comes the Night Time,” in the first album in the set. The song starts with a reference to the Nine Inch Nails song, “Hurt,” which Johnny Cash popularized before he passed away. The lyrics in “Hurt,” are “I hurt myself again to see if I still feel.” The melodic line Win sings is almost a direct copy of the popular song. Win sings, “I hurt myself again/ Along with all my friends/ Feels like it never ends/ Here comes the night again.”
The next track, “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” begins with lyrics, “You and I were born in a little town/ Before the awful sound started coming down.” On multiple occasions, “awful” sounds are referenced in the song relating back to Eurydice myth. In the myth, Eurydice was a dryad, a type of nymph associated with oak trees. These nymphs were supposed to be very shy. Thus, when the narrator of the song professes his/her love toward Eurydice, she rejects it. Thus, it produces the “awful” sound of silence, which is a reference to the classic Simon and Garfunkel song, “The Sound of Silence.” The end of the song repeats the first track, “I met you up upon a stage our love in a reflective age.”
The best song on the second album of the set is “Afterlife.” It debuted on Saturday Night Live’s season opener. The first lyrics, “Afterlife, oh my God, what an awful word.” The constant outspoken “middle finger” to Christianity can be found throughout the album. This sort of imagery can be seen in their sophomore album, “Neon Bible,” as Win studied theology at McGill University. Much like the first song the album, “Afterlife” is both a celebration of life and a rebuking of religion. There is such a morbid correlation to a breakup and actual death in the song, which is quite fascinating. “And after this can I last another night?/ After all the bad advice/ Had nothing at all to do with life” Love has to go somewhere even after a body decomposes. The problem with afterlife in religion, to some it could seem whimsical to assume there is a place you go when you die. However, the logic behind such a place beyond the physical seems silly to assume but something each person much figure out for themselves. Win realizes that there is a constant desire, at some point in each humans life, to search for their meaning and place in the world.
“I was learning from what I saw and applying it to my own life, lyrically,” Win told Rolling Stone. “I’m not trying to tell other people’s stories. We’re just trying to allow an experience to change you.” That is exactly what Arcade Fire has done. They have simply started to change the way we see the art form of an album and how it relates to the human experience. This definitely proves that these independent rockers are going to be making music for a long time. They still have so many unanswered life questions to answer.