Arcade Fire, the Montreal band led by Win Butler and his wife, Régine Chassagne, has been putting out smart but also incredibly catchy music for the last decade. What transpires in the 85 minutes of their newest release Reflektor is no exception: with this record, Arcade Fire manages to produce music that is both sonically interesting and profoundly moving.
An album stream (finally) went up on the web on the Thursday before the record’s October 29 release, only to disappear by Saturday. What’s worth mentioning is that this wasn’t just any album stream. Instead, Arcade Fire posted the record to YouTube as an 85-minute lyric video set to scenes from the 1959 film Black Orpheus. In listening to the record in this way, it becomes virtually impossible to separate the music from the film. And while not all of the plot specifics line up, there’s something tremendously powerful about watching the Greek myth self-consciously echoed in these layered texts. It’s ancient Greece, it’s Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, and it’s an Arcade Fire album about them both. It’s, if you will, a reflection of a reflection of a reflection. These archetypes are deeply resonant, and only contribute to Reflektor’s magic.
Musically, there’s a lot to like here. It seems inevitable that the word “epic” will be used to describe Reflektor as it was with M83’s double LP Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The length and scope of this work make it staggeringly impressive—it functions as a rock record and as an alternate soundtrack to Black Orpheus without sacrificing the quality or catchiness of individual songs. The production on this record is insanely good. It’s, at times, whimsically literal (see Win’s filtered vocals in “Porno”), and at other times recalls the meticulous LCD Soundsystem record This Is Happening, which makes sense given James Murphy’s involvement in the project.
The strongest stretch of Reflektor is its last four tracks: “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)”, “Porno,” “Afterlife,” and album closer “Supersymmetry.” The first two have some impressively wobbly bass and anachronistic synthesizers, and “Porno” makes use of some just-cheesy-enough disco strings. “Afterlife” is a no-holds-barred foot-stomper and likely set-closer that differs from old-school Arcade Fire primarily in its bottom end (which goes a long way in grounding it). “Supersymmetry” is a gorgeous closer that paired spectacularly with the final sequence in Black Orpheus before the album teaser was pulled on Saturday.
It seems inevitable that Reflektor will be remembered as one of the best records of 2013, if not the best. The album is interesting on a textual level, a musical level, and a cultural one. It’s late in 2013, and it’s normal to tweet in under 140 characters and send SnapChats that disappear into the ether after mere seconds: it takes vision and grit, particularly today, to create a long-form record with such staying power. With Reflektor, Arcade Fire has accomplished something extraordinary.