Album review: Reflektor

Sean Brady, Copy/Web Editor Ω

Arcade Fire released its fourth album, Reflektor, on Oct. 28, 2013.

Arcade Fire released its fourth album, Reflektor, on Oct. 28, 2013. Image courtesy Merge Records

The latest offering from Arcade Fire is the pulsing double-album Reflektor. It might be seen as somewhat of a departure in style for the Montreal band, but if that’s the case, they have left their roots for something great.

The album is a product of six core band members, including frontman Win Butler, his wife Régine Chassagne, brother Will Butler and multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry. But the sounds on the album are more than that – a lot more. As many as 20 musicians count towards the album’s finished sound, including David Bowie. While you’d be hard-pressed to hear the back-up lyrics he provided, his influence-by-presence is obvious.

The album carries a notable rhythm – some tracks feature multiple percussionists, bongos and even Caribbean-style steel drums in the haunting song “Porno.”

The fifth track, “Normal Person,” is the thematic flagship for the album and probably best-defines the band’s current state. It opens with a mock stage scene with Win Butler posing a question he probably considered himself prior to recording this track.

“Do you like rock and roll music? ‘Cause I don’t know if I do.”

If this is rock and roll music to the frontman, I like it. I’d advise first-time listeners to enjoy this one in private – it’s unlikely you’ll be able to resist playing air guitar during the peaked-out riffs in the chorus. The song builds and fades four or five times and finishes big. By the time you’ve finished listening you’ll have tapped your foot so hard it’ll feel like you’ve just done work.

The band’s live performances of this track have been notably weird. During their Oct. 21 performance on The Colbert Report, a band of fake-headed puppets (also seen in the “Reflektor” music video) introduced the song before throwing to what was at least an octet, rocking out in full-swing.

Seeing “Normal Person” played to a U.S. audience, especially after the bizarre intro to the song, was a reassuring nod by Win Butler that he’s made no concessions to the mainstream, even if he is on prime time American television.

You won’t find the typical orchestral string sounds the band made heavy use of in its previous album, The Suburbs. While the band’s long-time string arranger Owen Pallett contributes to the record, his influence seems less obvious. The violin highlights and flourishes previously heard in tracks like “No Cars Go” are absent.

There’s a 10-minute hidden track, though because it seems to be a collection of left-overs and experiments of no consequence, you’re probably safe to let it remain hidden.

Reflektor is a worthy addition to the band’s discography, and it’s one that might serve as a marker between old Arcade Fire and new Arcade Fire.