Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

Arcade Fire
The Suburbs
(Merge Records)

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Out in the suburbs, something’s brewing below the shopping malls and the cookie-cutter-house-complacency. There’s something dark. A “Suburban War” perhaps? The Arcade Fire’s third album, The Suburbs, is much more subdued than their first two albums, but the tension is still there. The seven-piece ensemble create deep, complex layers of violins, electric guitars, keyboards, and accordion.

In the title track, front man Win Butler asks “So can you understand/why I want a daughter while I’m still young?/I want to hold her hand/ And show her some beauty/Before all this damage is done.” The “damage” refers to the taming of people and entire societies. “They hear the singing/And told me to stop/Quit the pretentious things and just punch the clock,” Regine Chassagne sings later in “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountain).”

Although the album as a whole is more subtle and controlled, there are still several tracks that recently proved to be quite arena-friendly at their epic, two-evening stint at the Garden. “Empty Room” is a song made to be turned up full-volume. It features chasing violins and growling, exploding electric guitars. “Month of May” takes on a more in-your-face punk sound with angry, pounding drums and the kids “standing with their arms folded tight.”

In “Half Light II (No Celebration)” the scene is set in our dark, post-stock market-crash era when people have to “pay the cost” for everything that’s come undone. Butler sings, “Oh this city’s changed so much/Since I was a little child./Pray to God I won’t live to see/The death of everything that’s wild” before letting out a feral “whoop” that ricochets.

Although almost every song on the album is truly excellent, “We Used to Wait” certainly takes the prize. With a repetitive piano note and driving drum beat, the violins turn in waves, swelling and building, and the song takes on a brave, anthem-like feel. At the beginning of the song, Butler’s voice is low and quivering, but by the end, he’s shouting out the chorus. As I recently experienced live at the Garden, this is a song that begs everyone to join in with the chorus, even if it’s your first time hearing it, and the result is other-worldly.

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About Julie Kocsis

Julie Kocsis is Associate Editor and a contributing writer of ShortAndSweetNYC.com. Living in Brooklyn, she works for Penguin Random House during the day and writes about rock bands at night. In addition to her many band interviews as well as album and concert reviews that have been published on ShortAndSweetNYC.com, she has also been published on The Huffington Post, Brooklyn Exposed and the Brooklyn Rail.
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