February 13, 2007


BIG TIME: The outsized appeal of Arcade Fire. (SASHA FRERE-JONES, 2007-02-19, The New Yorker)

There is little about the Montreal band Arcade Fire that is not big. The group has seven core members, including its founders, a married couple named Win Butler (who is six feet three) and Régine Chassagne. Onstage, Arcade Fire expands to nine musicians, or more. The band's unusually polished début, "Funeral," which was recorded for less than ten thousand dollars and released in 2004, has sold more than three hundred thousand copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. This is a robust number for an independent band, especially one whose fans append free MP3s of the songs to their gushing Web posts. (An entry on a blog called "Blinding Light of Reason" commands, "If you are a human being, you owe it to your eternal soul to love the Arcade Fire and see them play live." David Bowie has performed live with the band, and, on a recent tour, U2 chose "Wake Up," Arcade Fire's apocalyptic sing-along about lightning bolts, to play over the sound system before its performances. ("Wake Up" is also played during pre-game ceremonies at Rangers games at Madison Square Garden.)

Arcade Fire speaks to several generations at once. The fervid tenor of the band's music, always pitching toward some kind of revelation, is a quality of youth. That the songs also sound like U2's battle calls, or the expansive rumbles of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, may account for its following among older listeners, who might otherwise be wary of musicians singing in French as well as in English, drumming on each other's heads (prudently helmeted), and citing Haitian history. Arcade Fire earns the right to borrow or steal what it needs; the band is a torrent of energy and ideas, and its edits of the past are sometimes improvements. (Butler's Springsteen moments involve about half as many words as Bruce would use.) Arcade Fire songs aim, without apology or irony, for grandeur, and, more often than not, they achieve it. But the voices at the heart of the band sound as though they were coming from the congregation, not the pulpit.

Arcade Fire's preference for imperfect, analog recordings and, in live shows, imperfect, analog clothing--like suspenders--will please both those who find MTV glitz outdated and those who never warmed to the idea of bling in the first place. The pen-and-ink illustrations that accompany "Funeral," including an image of a hand manipulating a quill, signal the band's commitment to painstaking effort--whether it's adding complicated horn and string arrangements to a rock song or making a promotional video for the Web in the style of a nineteen-seventies late-night-television commercial.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 13, 2007 7:58 AM
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