21 February 2011

The Suburbs by Arcade Fire

As many of you know, there was a major upset at the latest Grammys when Arcade Fire won Album of the Year for their album The Suburbs. A lot of people were confused and annoyed by this because Arcade Fire has had very little airplay on the radio, despite the fact that their album sold incredibly well and has been highly praised by critics. They just aren't really great radio material.

At any rate, I figured, "Hey, here's an 'indie' album that's been so highly praised that it beat out Eminem, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Lady Antebellum for the coveted Grammy for Album of the Year. I might as well check it out." After all, this is a significant event for independent music. At least within my recollection, this is the first time an indie band has been welcomed in to the mainstream music industry with such open arms. I think it's an important event in music history. The growth of the internet has brought with it a new way to find and share music, and smaller bands are given more and more of a chance to prove themselves to the general public. Arcade Fire has clearly won its share of hearts (and made its share of enemies, if http://whoisarcadefire.tumblr.com/ is to suggest anything). So why not give The Suburbs a listen?

It grows on you
I have to admit, on first listen, the album felt... kinda bland. There is a bit of this "wall-of-sound" style I associate heavily with Sindri Már (Sin Fang / Seabear), where layers of sound are built on top of each other to create unique melodies and moods. However, even Sindri's solo stuff under the name Sin Fang has such numerous and varied layers and given that Arcade Fire and Seabear both have seven members, I wanted them to both have same kind of sublime variation and energy. However, The Suburbs felt... lacking. That is at first.

However, it grew on me. I wanted them to be Seabear rather then letting them be who they are. There are similarities, but also major difference. How can I say this?

Yes, I did just compare a Grammy winner
to a Turkish pastry.
Seabear is like the flakiest of strudels and Arcade Fire is like a dense, sticky baklava.

See, both of them have those delicious layers, building up to an amazing texture. But Seabear's layers flake off from each other so easily, their layers of sound trading prominence off and on, with each one getting its own beautiful moment. Inside the strudel that is Seabear there is a sweet filling, like bright trumpets, sawing fiddles, and a certain rhythm and upbeat that just bursts with energy. Meanwhile, Arcade Fire's layers feel denser, like they are stuck together with honey. The layers stay more or less in their place, each one behind the other where they're meant to be. It's also a bit more savoury, with a heavier feeling.

Ah, extended metaphors...

Anyway, just looking at the lyrics, you can see the difference. Both deal with typical human problems and express a certain feeling of existentialism in a rapidly modernizing world, but they address them in different ways. Sindri's writing has a surreal quality to them, with odd references to animals, bones, and other elements of nature. There's a certain wildness to it all, and you feel in it a strong desire to return to the wild. Arcade Fire comes from a far more urban point of view. They are more literal, directly addressing concepts of urbanization, modernization, the suburbs, the sprawl, and a feeling of meaningless. The lyrics in songs by Seabear seem to long for an early time when everything seemed to make sense, while Arcade Fire merely mourns its loss.

Long story short, The Suburbs certainly deserved the award, and if you haven't listened to it yet, give it a try. And if you're still not sure how you feel, listen to it a few more times. You may be as surprised as I was to find the songs stuck in your head. Oh, and for the record, "Sprawl II (mountains beyond mountains)" is my favourite track on the album.

So, all this thinking about music got me thinking about my favourite albums of 2010, and in particular, my favourite Icelandic albums of 2010. So look forward to that in my next post!

1 comment:

  1. This is a thoughtful and entertaining review. Loved the pastry analogy! Your review makes me want to listen to the album and eat both pastries while doing so.