Ah yes, Arcade Fire. I’m sure you figured that they might be on this list somewheres, given that 2010 saw them release what is arguably their biggest and most accomplished album to date.
Arcade Fire was originally formed in 2001 when Win Butler was attending school in Montreal with his friend Josh Deu and they met Régine Chassagne. Their debut album, 2004’s “Funeral”, turned the indie rock realm on its head and spearheaded a group of Canadian talent that tuned the world’s ears to this bleak piece of land north of the U.S. It was so great and so promising that nothing the band produced could have realistically followed it up and so their 2007 sophomore effort, “Neon Bible”, disappointed at first but in hindsight, was quite excellent.
Then came “The suburbs”.
Much like all of their long players, it is a sort of concept album. It is lyrically inspired by Win and his brother, Will’s early years growing up in the ‘burbs, but rather than looking at the subject nostalgically, they throw a futuristic, dystopian curveball at it. Musically, Win Butler has reportedly described it as “a mix of Depeche Mode and Neil Young”, which kind of reminds me as a joke band my friends and I made up back in high school that called themselves a mix of Eric Clapton and Jesus Jones (more on that another time perhaps). What I am guessing Butler is saying and what I am trying to get across with my comparison is that Arcade Fire is boldly mixing sounds that shouldn’t work together and in so doing, managed to carve out a piece of music that is uniquely theirs.
The title track was one of the few songs I heard as a teaser prior to the full album’s release and also one that they performed the second time I saw them live. It was headlining the main stage during the second week of Ottawa Bluesfest in 2010, almost a month before the album’s release. They were a much bigger deal in terms of popularity than the previous time I had seen them as an opening act a few years prior. There was a massive crowd queued up to see them, rather than those curious few who showed up early for U2 and were treated to a raucous performance. But success hadn’t changed their manic live set any and still hasn’t. I’d say they are probably one of the best live shows you will ever see.
Performed live, “The suburbs” is a boisterous, rollicking affair but on the album, track number one is like a stroll through the singer’s childhood neighbourhood. The drums present a lackadaisical gait and pacing that suggests we need to take everything in. The jaunty, ragtime piano is more upbeat than it should be and the strings and other otherworldly synth effects suggest a sinister, malevolent undertone. But Win Butler’s vocals are matter of fact, telling it like it is, pointing out points of interest, recounting childhood stories, and espousing dreams in a world that appears to be without hope. Doesn’t it just leave you breathless?
For the rest of the Best tunes of 2010 list, click here.