Singular sermon: Looking both back and ahead

Published January 27, 2004, in issue 0404 of the Hook

The Arcade Fire: Funeral (Merge)


Mixing lo-fi beauty with the pains and pleasures of living on their full-length debut album, The Arcade Fire hit on the big ideas of life and death, love, and loss. But they coat these sometimes bitter pills with sweet lustrous indie-pop that few would decline to taste.

Funeral arose from a year full of passings– relatives on all sides left this earth– but also from a year of more positive changes. Biggest among those: the group's two principal points of light, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, married. These life-altering events seem to have electrified the brains of these two songwriters and enabled them to create something that's a majestic leap from their less satisfying self-released EP.

The Funeral begins with the joyously apocalyptic "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" where piano and staccato strings overlay a driving bass and disco beats, as Butler reveals his plans for a blizzard– "...if the snow buries my, my neighborhood."

Romantic notions such as the subtle "you'd change all the lead, sleeping in my head" to the utterly lost "then we'd try to name our babies, but we forgot all the names that, the names we used to know" fly forth in a tumult of emotion, building and building to a grandiose conclusion.

The next track, "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" is less forward than its predecessor, exchanging lustrous storytelling for rock with a mystical edge, but its brilliance shines through. The winding bass that dominates the song's verses fades into a sea of synthesizer, guitar, and accordion on the chorus as Butler sings/shouts "our mother shoulda /just named you Laika," backed by a harmonizing Chassagne.

Tracks four and five continue this song saga with "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" and "...#4 (7 Kettles)," the former echoing the album's first track while the latter ends the "neighborhood" saga, the song's narrator watching the happenings on his street from a dimly lit window.

"Wake Up" begins with impressive shades of the latter-day Flaming Lips, but soon slips into what The Arcade Fire have made their signature sound– loud well-spaced pounding beats, high-flying impassioned vocals, and lucid lyrics.

What most sets The Arcade Fire apart from similar but younger acts is maturity. They pass by the "seventeen/what I mean" rhymes in favor of lyrical feats of strength and instrumental daring that come only with seasoned lives. I'm glad they saw fit to share them with us for a little while.

The Arcade Fire: Funeral