An Arcade Fire primer from someone who knows next to nothing about Arcade Fire

Before sitting down to write this post, I knew basically nothing about Arcade Fire. I had a vague sense that they were possibly from Montreal, I remember one year where they seemed to PWN everyone else at the Grammys, there was a decent meme about how no one knew who they were, I thought CBS profiled them (but it was actually Vampire Weekend), and hey, did I mention I think they’re Canadian? I chose the video above to embed at the top of this post only because it had the highest individual view count on YouTube. I have no true context for it.

Recently, I’ve been hearing they dropped a new album — which appears to be called Reflektor — and they were oddly paired with the opening of a hockey game last weekend (hey, they’re Canadian. We established that so far, right?)

So here’s what I’ve got: they are based in Montreal (score!), they appear to have seven band members, and they came to prominence because of their debut album, 2004’s Funeral. They dominated parts of the 2011 awards circuit for The Suburbs (ah, context for the above embed), and appear to play all the standard instruments you’d expect along with mandolin, hurdy-gurdy, and glockenspiel. The name of the band is based on a story that someone once told Win Butler, the lead vocalist. It can apparently be argued that they’re currently “in the throes of transformation,” moving away from stories about “being under someone’s thumb,” i.e. “Wake Up.”

Their shift is supposedly reflective of the same shift that Talking Heads and U2 took before them, from more romantic, power-soaked, near violent ballads to less operatic populism. Man, I’m not sure if I sound informed or like a total douchebag. Most people seem to like the new sound, although a few music critics are using it to have a Twitter war. The band seems comfortable with its new sound, claiming that some of it is rooted in a trip that the husband and wife team at the fore of the group took to Haiti right after crushing it at the 2011 Grammys.

The ‘world’s most successful indie group,’ as some call them, were the musical guests to open this season of Saturday Night Live:

Cool thing about this band: they seem to be big on the secret show. (There’s a reference to it on the first NPR link above as well.) While browsing Reddit, I also came across basically exactly what I’m trying (and mostly failing) to do here — a guide to Arcade Fire, including key tracks. This is supposedly a very important track, and it’s kinda awesome:

Stereogum has this list of the 10 best Arcade Fire songs; the top of the post is interesting in terms of how the band has stuck to their guns (relatively, until now). No. 1 on that list is “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels),” which is off the 2004 Funeral album (I have no idea whether I’m supposed to ital the album titles, but I’m so awash in Arcade Fire links that I’m not ready to look it up just this second).

Here’s another good article about their shift — and the influence of David Bowie. This is Pitchfork’s entire collection of Arcade Fire-related content, and here’s some backstory on their recording process. NME made a list of the top 150 tracks of the past 15 years, and Arcade Fire’s “Rebellion” came in at No. 2. (At that link, you can get some background on how they wrote that song; it should be noted that in the whole time I’ve been writing this post, that was the first time I recognized a song. I’m clueless when it comes to American indie rock, or Canadian indie rock.)

Feels like a good way to end: the band recently honored Lou Reed. Oh, and they also caused Michael Cera to oddly speak Spanish once.

(Having read and watched all this, my verdict: B-Plus or A-Minus. They are a really interesting band. A little all over the place, but in a good way. I’d like to see them live someday. For the time being, let me wrap with a live embed.)

Ted Bauer