By the time you realise you are hooked on the full-length debut from these Canadian multi-instrumentalists, itâ€™s too late to do anything about it...
From the outset, itâ€™s obvious you donâ€™t stand a chance. The opener, â€˜Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)â€™ gradually builds from subtle strings and pianos, and lead vocalist Win Butlerâ€™s plans for escape from a snowbound town (â€œIâ€™ll build a tunnel / From my window to yoursâ€). But soon the nagging paranoia of the ubiquitous four-time bass drum and Butlerâ€™s increased desperation make it clear that something far more sinister than a mere blizzard is at foot. You are powerless as serene calm turns to abject panic with the elegance and urgency of a long Canadian winter closing in.
And it cuts both ways. From the depths of the blackout in â€˜Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)â€™ you are spared just when you canâ€™t take the dark any more: â€œLight a candle for the kids / Jesus Christ donâ€™t keep it hid!â€. The only constant is Butler striving for a world that seems forever just beyond his reach, or perhaps one that was left behind in a more innocent time. Equal parts fantasy and warning, â€˜Rebellion (Lies)â€™ underlines this contrast with the albumâ€™s most gripping crescendo that finally spits you out into a chorus of devastating ecstasy: â€œNow hereâ€™s the sun, itâ€™s alright! / Lies! / Now hereâ€™s the moon, itâ€™s alright / Lies!â€.
Butlerâ€™s wife RÃ©gine Chassagne, the most prolific multi-tasker in the band according to the credits, contributes lead vocals on â€˜HaÃ¯tiâ€™ which drip with the passion and humidity native to her country of birth. She also takes centre stage for the beautiful BjÃ¶rk-esque epilogue â€˜In the Backseatâ€™.
This recordâ€™s roots lie in grief; relatives of several of the band members died shortly before recording, hence the title. The orchestrations ultimately provide beauty and peace, but are never far from turmoil. Even though Jack and Jill are having a nice time up that hill, you know some heavy shit is not far away. For Arcade Fire, though, the happy ending is just close enough to touchâ€¦