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Arcade Fire: The Suburbs
Holding his ground while the entire world around him is changing swiftly, Arcade Fire’s leading man Win Butler laments about bygone times when lovers used to pen each other letters instead of hurl texts back and forth. Had he been born in a past era, perhaps his frail soul would have found something else to wistfully ache for; as it’s Butler belief that artists shouldn’t provide easy answers; but rather pose hard questions.
After two unanimously acclaimed albums (Funeral and Neon Bible) that cemented their status as indie royalty, Arcade Fire’s third album comes as yet another effortlessly enjoyable record. Like Funeral and Neon Bible, The Suburbs unfolds like a procedural-argument; this time constructed around the themes of suburban purity vs. modern-life complexity. The fame and fortune brought by the success of the earlier albums hasn’t shaken the band’s skeptic worldview; in fact, it seems to have given them more issues to grapple with. Thus, most of the finger-pointing in The Suburbs is directed at the all-knowing kids who carried the band to the throne of indie rock.
The Suburbs opens with a melancholy-laden title track, where Butler nostalgically sings about his innocent formative years; it’s the song equivalent to a thesis statement. Next, Butler, his wife Régine and the rest of the eight piece outfit break down the argument. The first half of the album has the weight of the world over its shoulder. ‘Ready to Start’ launches an attack on the businessmen who ‘Are drinking my blood/ Like the kids in art school said they would’ and then ‘Rococo’ blasts those very kids who ‘Seem wild but they are so tame.’
Before the band gets bogged down by its own melodrama; it comes in with glimmers of hope. Butler shifts the blame from the outside world and redirects it to himself in his musical ride around suburbia. He embraces countryside joy with the same open arms. In ‘Deep Blue’ he’s back to his old town standing under the night sky. 'Put the laptop down for a while/ In the night there is something wild,' Butler advises. Clear and direct, the song's words don’t hide behind a mask of detached metaphors. Instead, the lyrics pour out with literal honesty.
If all the longing didn’t tip you off, then the Arcade’s music will. Swooping, grand, and precise, Arcade Fire’s sound is very much grounded in the classical tradition of pop and rock with some songs foraying into orchestral bars. The band displays an ambitious and highly textured sound driven by strong melodies, exciting chord progression, and rhythmic drum marches that match the sobering tone of their poetics.
The band bookends the album by reprising the title track and concluding ‘If I could Have it back/ All the time that we wasted/ I'd only waste it again.'
However, despite all the malaise, Arcade’s post-irony sincerity imbues a delightful sense of hopefulness.
It is next to impossible to define the sound of the Dirty Projectors. As soon as one tries to put their finger on any sort of genre or sound, it will have already transformed itself - either sonically or lyrically – into something else entirely.
For David Longstreth, the songwriting genius behind
the Dirty Projectors, combining filthy lyrical imagery, Mariah Carey vocals, a
classical brass section, indie rock ethics, minimal techno, Wizard of Oz duets,
and hip-hop beats, is a seemingly effortless task.
Over the past decade, Longstreth has released over ten LPs and EPs, all which prove that his band is everything that Dave Matthews Band and the Magnetic Fields try to be – witty, daring, intelligent, honest, weird; in other words, different. Swing Lo Magellan, maintains that tradition, though in a somewhat more welcomed and accessible way.
However, Swing Lo is still bizarrely weird.
While for the first time the majority of songs are built around verse/chorus
song structures - and it feels as if Longstreth has tried to keep his
experimentation bound to structure - every song still sounds like a musical
experiment in itself.
The Dirty Projectors are a band of six who are more or less based in Brooklyn, New York. However, in ten years the band has easily gone through twenty members, and a rotating cast – Longstreth aside – simply seems to be part of the essence of this band.
It’s difficult to define what each band member specifically does because there’s no formula, and so individual roles often change with each song. There is a huge variety of sounds – clapping, duets, guitar riffs, eastern and western beats, digital effects – captured and produced using both hi-fi and lo-fi means. Dirty Projectors have collaborated with both Icelandic singer Björk, and new wave hero David Byrne of the Talking Heads, which hints at the diversity of their styles and tastes.
The off kilter, catchy pop track ‘About to Die,’
evokes a weird, sort of dyslexic Maroon 5-type groove, whilst Longstreth
lyrically ponders: “How can I hope to seize the tablet of values and redact it?
Foolish, I know, but I’m about to die”, that is, unless he’s “already dead”.
The opening track ‘Offspring are Blank,’ plays with the idea of species propagation, of fertile parents giving birth to blank children. However, it’s delivered over hip-hop beats, r&b vocals and pop-punk rock choruses.
There are also beautiful, guitar pop songs, such as title track ‘Swing Lo Magellan,’ which combines acoustic guitar, beautiful playful imagery, and a sense of wonder and adventure. But even with this simple song, the production sneakily bombards the listener with two tracks simultaneously. If listened to with headphones, one finds that that the right speaker is delivering an acoustic, beat-less ballad, and the left speaker is a bluesy, drum and bass groove; when combined, the magic is delivered.
However, just when one begins to grasp what this
album is all about, the punkish, dark, Pink Floyd-ish track ‘Maybe that was It’
comes as an exploration of what it would lyrically and sonically sound like to
come off LSD – confused and disoriented.
It is almost futile picking tracks off of this
record, as they’re all beautiful and unique in their own way. The current
single is ‘Gun Has No Trigger,’ but whatever the listener’s taste, there is
definitely something, somewhere on this record for everybody.
The name Swing Lo Magellan is a likely reference to renowned explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s daring voyage under South America, where he ‘swang lo’, becoming the first person to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In a way, that is exactly what it sounds like Longstreth is doing with this album: creating groundbreaking connections where most believed they would and could never be made. Swing Lo Longstreth, Swing Lo.
Ever since the 2012 release of their double a-side single, ‘Flying To Berlin/Husbands’, Savages have occupied an interesting space in the musical spectrums. With a mixture of old school post-punk and noise rock, they appear to be the perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans. Their frenetic, dark, and sinisterly beautiful style has been receiving rave reviews the world over from critics and fans alike and their latest EP Adore Life is more of the same.
This is an album about love, but one would hesitate to call any of the tracks traditional love songs. Instead of falling into classic song writing tropes about how amazing love is, Savages instead approach the subject matter from a much darker perspective. This is an album about the true power of love, nd how that isn’t always a good thing.
The opening track, ‘The Answer’, heaves with energy from the get go, telling the story of an almost obsessive infatuation, with frontwoman Jehnny Beth (real name Camille Berthomier) repeating the words “If you don't love me/You don't love anybody” throughout the song just to drive home the fact that love can be a dangerous force. The hectic instrumentation provides a binary opposition to Beth’s sweet tones and is the perfect start to the record.
That is not to say that Adore Life is unrelenting in its aggression. This album is a mixture of forceful distortion, British post-punk and torch songs, and nowhere is this more apparent than on the song ‘Adore’. It’s slow, it’s bassy, it’s reverby (is that even a word?) it’s dark, but above all, beautiful. Concluding with a lyrical coda accompanied by a slow crescendo, it sounds like something you would hear in a smoky Paris café at 3AM. Make no mistakes, this is an early contender for one of the best songs of 2016.
Even towards the end of the album, they manage to keep the energy up. The penultimate track, ‘T.I.W.YG’, is almost a sequel to ‘The Answer’ in terms of style and narrative. The instrumentation provides an organised cacophony to truly drive home the fact that, this is what you get when you mess with love.
For what is only a second album, Adore Life shows a surprising maturity from the London-based female foursome. The lyrics are emotive without being contrived, the instrumentation is varied without being schizophrenic and the style is classic without being clichéd. This is more neo-post punk as opposed to post-punk revival and thank god it is, because the last thing we need is another attempt to revive a past genre. Remember the comment about the band being perfect cross-section of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Swans? This album hits the nail on the head, being equal parts a love song to the past and an ode to the fuzzy future.