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Arcade Fire continues to burn brightly

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Arcade Fire's Reflektor

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Much has made over Arcade Fire’s decision to have former LCD Soundsystem head man James Murphy help produce its latest album, Reflektor. Although the album’s title cut obviously hearkens a bit to disco’s heyday, when you dig deeper into the individual songs -- particularly focusing on vocalist’s Win Butler’s gut-spilling lyrics – you realize quickly that, although the wrapping may have changed to something a bit flash dance-y-er, the quality of the gift within remains extremely high.
If the word ‘disco’ scares you off, just skip straight to “You Already Know,” which rocks and rolls to the faux rockabilly groove of prime era The Clash. Lyrically, Butler at comes off a lot like a latter day David Byrne with questioning lyrics like the kind found on “Normal Person.” He sounds truly paranoid – almost exactly like Byrne’s wide-eyed “Once in a Lifetime” video persona – when he wonders aloud if he is, in fact, a normal person. He’s not even sure if he’s ever met a normal person.
The philosophical questions asked by “Flashbulb Eyes,” where Butler asks if a photographic picture can actually steal another person’s soul, is perfectly couched in a dub-y reggae groove. The track for this one once again references The Clash, particularly that great band’s Sandanista experimental era.
Arcade Fire may be one of the contemporary era’s most successful bands – even headlining a night at 2014’s Coachella Valley Music Festival – but Butler still comes off restless, questioning and unsatisfied with modern life. Just listen to the way he describes current day religion as some sort of advertising ‘bait and switch’ scheme during “Here Comes the Night.” The church may appear to offer relief from the stress of daily living, but Butler seems to view this as an mirage-like party to which he’s simply not invited.
Some may be dismayed by the seeming inorganic nature of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor, but I welcome it. It contains so many strong songs, and the unusual sonic filigree only heightens the impact of Butler’s searching lyrics. Like all Arcade Fire music, Reflektor is both immediate and mysterious. It hits you with strong doses of reality on first strike, yet continues to reveal its lyrical riddles in layers, which require and also invite repeated, increasingly intensifying listening experiences to fully appreciate. And how can you not love that?

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