Win Butler’s intrepid group of indie-rock icons have come a long way since that fateful summer of 2003, when he spotted his now wife Regine Chassagne singing French jazz standards at an art exhibit in Montreal, and subsequently decided to form a band. Two mega hype-inducing EP’s, three platinum albums and two Grammy nominations later, Arcade Fire have perched themselves immovably atop the pantheon of alternative music as everybody’s favourite band of unassuming rock stars. But what’s next? The Canadian rockers have maintained a never-ending presence on the road since the release of their critically acclaimed third album The Suburbs and it could be argued that three years is a long time between albums. The Suburbs was Arcade Fire’s coming out party, and represented a perfect mixture of the grand statements the band make through their own brand of anthemic, folk-tinged melancholic rock, and the kind of mass appeal that only the great indie bands (Radiohead et al) achieve.
In typically veiled form, the band announced back in August, via a tweet to one fan, that the follow-up to The Suburbs would be released on October 29th. Following the tweet, images using the name started appearing as street art in various cities, hinting that the album would be titled Reflektor. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem has also been hired to produce the album, which suggests a more electronic direction for the band, although Murphy has been quoted as saying Arcade Fire are “very self-produced, and don’t really need a producer,” so his input could be minimal.
The first single from the album, ‘Reflektor’, was released in September to universal acclaim and features a short cameo from mega-fan David Bowie. The bittersweet vocals and LCD Soundsystem-esque understated, syncopated beat all combine to create an unexpected first-rate floorfiller, which excites and enthrals in equal measure. The interactive video for ‘Reflektor’ that was released at the same time is a revolutionary turn and adds an extra dimension to Arcade Fire’s already sterling output. Directed by long-time collaborator Vincent Morisset, the video was filmed in Haiti and “follows a young woman who travels between her world and our own,” allowing the viewer to dictate where the plot goes.
Early reviews and indications suggest a conscious departure from previous norms on the record, and a leap into the unknown. Having spent recording time in various differing environments such as New York, Jamaica and Haiti, multiple new elements of sound have found their way onto this new, eclectic as ever record. Reggae influences have been sighted, and whilst this is no reincarnation a la Snoop Lion, the mid 70’s bump and grind of Messer’s Marley and Cliff can keenly be felt throughout the record, according to early reports. Bowie’s influence is, as ever on Arcade Fire records, felt acutely, but more in the electronic alternative style of Berlin era Bowie (see 1977’s Low and Heroes).
Whilst the Canadian troupe’s legacy is already assured, expect no relaxation on the part of the band, and early indications suggest this effort will surpass all previously. Rolling Stone has called Reflektor “extraordinary” and “the best album Arcade Fire have ever made,” whilst Consequence of Sound have stated enticingly that “Arcade Fire re-emerge with their own pair of dancing shoes yet they’re still clenching onto the smoky art school gravitas that’s got them this far unscathed.”
Reflektor is a clear embarkation from the previous sound of Arcade Fire records, and with a slew of great reviews already in the bag, and news of an impending world tour in the pipeline, this could well be the most successful year yet for Butler and his rag-tag band of mercurial music-men, now twelve strong from the original five founders of 2003. Could this be Grammy number two?