The Arcade Fire
The Arcade Fire
ne of the most frustrating things a concert-goer can experience is witnessing an amazing show, only to buy the band’s album and hear a flat, deflated version of what you’d seen and loved on stage. It’s kind of like those times you hear, what you think is, an amazing album for the first time late at night only to come back to it and hear a few moments of promise surrounded by a whole lot of boring filler. The Arcade Fire are one of the better Canadian-based indie bands in concert right now, but their eponymous debut album (at only thirty two minutes, it’s basically an elongated EP) isn’t going to fully let you in on why.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a strong effort and one of the best 2003 releases everyone seemed to gloss over, but still doesn’t compare to the intense spectacle of their live show. I mean, I’ve always had a thing for larger bands in concert—the only place I can really get into the Hidden Cameras or find myself in absolute awe of the Polyphonic Spree, for instance—but on record, that sense of being overwhelmed is often sorely missing, leaving only the songwriting, which all too often in these cases is sorely hit-and-miss and very rarely aptly produced. It isn’t that Arcade Fire is a cheap or worthless version of their live show, it’s just a whole different creature altogether—a relentless onslaught turned into a primarily intimate sounding collection.
Though most members weren’t even born in Canada, Arcade Fire currently reside in Montreal, even if they sound more reminiscent of the Toronto-based Broken Social Scene. Their debut, though it has a far stronger Mercury Rev influence (the melody in “Old Flame” is very nearly plagiaristic of half of Deserter’s Songs), does sound undeniably like BSS at times; take “Headlights Look Like Diamonds,” for example, which pretty much lifts the entire verse melody from “Almost Crimes;” or “No Cars Go,” arguable the strongest track of the lot, which also could’ve easily been a demo outtake for You Forgot It In People. Of course, unlike that record, there isn’t a single point on Arcade Fire in which I feel bored to tears.
The diversity of songwriting displayed here, especially given its brevity, is probably the group’s most promising and striking aspect. Like the Unicorns, who also call Montreal their home despite forming in BC, they have the ability to cleverly structure and arrange several fairly simple melodies into a greater whole; though, unlike the Unicorns, Arcade Fire take themselves much more seriously (which has its pros and cons, of course) and focus more on downbeat, accessible and epic art-rock, which will probably allow them to gain acceptance amongst those who think the Unicorns are retards with guitars and are understandably sick of other tepid Montreal art-rock like the Dears.
The production, while far from being lo-fi, sounds like an expansive studio effort run through a worn cassette, careful to not let the lush arrangements sound like a Dave “The only thing better than one orchestra is four” Fridmann kitchen-sink affair completely devoid of any intimacy. There’s a lot to be said about understating this kind of music, though as their live show more than proves, the difference between studio and stage for this band (while both work well in their own capacity) is the difference between a gentle hug and a train plowing you over.
Since this is, at this point at least, an independent only release, you’ll have to head over to their website (http://www.arcadefire.com) to buy a copy of the album, but it’s well worth the couch change (ten dollars Canadian is what, like, twenty cents American?). Hopefully someone picks this group up and gives them a larger distribution by year’s end; in the meantime they seem to be doing just fine on their own, releasing an impressive debut and fine-tuning their live show to be one of the most entertaining and moving around. In an environment where a group as over-hyped as Broken Social Scene can make it as big as they have, there’s no excuse for Arcade Fire to be ignored any longer.
Reviewed by: Scott Reid
Reviewed on: 2004-01-28