Arcade Fire

This post was originally part of an email conversation. Read here for more details.

From: Chris Stoneman
Sent: 11 July 2008 15:45
To: Ben Smith
Cc: Maple, Nicholas; John Klein; Bradbeer, Alexander; Jonathan Odom
Subject: RE: Musical Journey : Arcade Fire

So, this has to be a briefer and more recent band as I’m scared of overloading poor Ben with too many old school artists with a gazillion albums, and my distinct lack of time. Todays band is….

ARCADE FIRE – linked as they love the bowie and have famously performed with him (see video at bottom). Their debut album is one of the best of recent years, euphoric and desolate in the same breath, and the second ‘Neon Bible’ grows on you far more that you’d expect after the first listen. They’ve opened the floodgates to lots of amazing Canadian bands, which is no bad thing, and their gigs are some of the most memorable and emotional events you’ll ever go to. Oh, and the end of ‘Wake Up’ steals the riff from ‘Lust for Life’ by Iggy Pop, which was reportedly co-​​written by Bowie, just in case one link wasn’t enough.

Drinks in soho tonight anyone?


(added in January 2010) – OK, so that was a little short, so I thought I should add some more…..

Things to love. The haunting rhythm’s of ‘Tunnels’. Régine Chassagne’s anguished backing vocals on ‘Laika’. ‘Power Out’ bursting out from nowhere and morphing into a surprise anthem. The INCREDIBLE strings (arranged by Owen Pallet, aka Final Fantasy, who I’m seeing tomorrow (25th Jan ’10) and after only 2 listens I believe could have made the album of 2010 with ‘Heartlands’) that build and release the song’s tension so majestically. The sing-​​a-​​long cries and that sudden key change in ‘Wake Up’. The optimism of ‘Rebellion (Lies)’ and the realisation that after all that, it’s going to be OK. And of course ending the album by capturing that moment when we stare vacantly and figure it all out, ‘In the Backseat’ of a car, or on a train, or bus, or anywhere where the world rushes past our eyes. I’ve watched country after country fly past my eyes while I figure out what the hell is going on, and this song encapsulates that feeling better than any other. It’s 6 minutes of reflection, and allows you to digest the album you’ve just listened to.

Though it shouldn’t really be included here, I want to write so background stuff on this. I was working in London in my first music industry job when this album was released in the States at the end of 2004, and due to the level of appalling music I was being forced to listen to on a daily basis this album had a huge impact on me. Along with ‘I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning’ by Brighteyes, it reminded me how rewarding it was to obsess over an album with continuous listens. For some reason I specifically remember the first time I listened to it properly, and being so taken aback by the opening track ‘Tunnels’ that I was nearly run over as I crossed the road at Armoury Way in Wandsworth.

This album introduced me, and many others outside of the US, to the music website Pitchfork Media. It’s style was, and is, a traditionally laboured, word-​​intensive approach to journalism. Though the site is now known as a cliche of itself, often pandering to its reader’s love of obscure, contrived reasoning, at the time I marvelled at the level of knowledge the reviewers had of their subject, and the incredible ways in which they articulated their thoughts. It spurred me to become a fan of musical journalism as an artform in itself, regardless of the music being discussed, and to begin my own scribbling.

It’s believed by many, though I’d disagree to a point, that Pitchfork was a major factor in breaking this album. The review for this album (here) received a score of 9.7 out of 10, almost unheard of at the time. Though blogs had been around for several years, 2004/​5 were the years in which it really felt they could make an impact on pushing an album to the mainstream. Suddenly everyone was talking about the album, both online and off, citing their reference as Pitchfork or the blogosphere. The printed mags in the UK missed the boat entirely, as the UK release came a full 5 months after the release in Canada. The London shows at the ICA in March and the Astoria in May ’05 were massively hyped, and the album went on to sell 750K worldwide, rare for a release on an indie label (the wonderful Merge Records). From this point on, labels seemed to understand the power of ‘reviews led’ releases, whereby a relatively small website such as Pitchfork, particularly compared to traditional media, could provoke such an immediate and profound response in coverage and sales.

Neon Bible’ followed, but the reflection was replaced by preaching, and the album never quite reached the heights of the debut. As a way of making up for barely mentioning the second album, here’s an early version of ‘Intervention’ that I listened to to DEATH when it surfaced. It proves that at the heart of all the grandeur, there are simply great songs. There’ll be more to come from these guys though, that’s for sure.

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