Improved vocals in Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’

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Arcade Fire definitely knows where it wants to end up as a band, even if the path it has chosen may seem unclear at the moment. Looking at its catalog, its albums have worked toward founding a specific niche in the greater rock music canon, establishing Arcade Fire as not only a modern staple but also a possible future classic. But while the band has been pretty damn successful in forging its own recognizable (if eclectic) tone, lately it has been doing so in unpredictable, dynamic ways.

This dynamism is showcased strikingly on Reflektor. Arcade Fire’s drive for growth and experimentation can be seen even in the album’s promotion, centered on a cryptic guerilla campaign that spread the Reflektor logo using flyers, graffiti stencils and social media apps. While the band got in trouble for resultant property damage, this only contributed to its success.

Arcade Fire’s familiar tone resonates differently through the influence of its production team’s newest member, James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem. Murphy’s production coats Arcade Fire’s songs in an atmosphere similar to that of his defunct band, creating jam-length (read: long) synth rock songs with commandeering percussion that recalls early ’80s Talking Heads. The songs in this batch outlast the typical radio pop song — but the slight repetitiveness results in ritualistic rhythm that gives each track a mesmerizing quality.

On vocals, Win Butler fine-tunes his emulations in Reflektor. He gives off the mannerisms of David Bowie much more than those of Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and thus fittingly changing the proportions in his Bowie-Brock cocktail. In fact, Bowie appears on the opener, “Reflektor,” but his cameo almost blends in with the surrounding voices.

In the end, the album’s identity is secured by its dazzling production. “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)” stands out due to its motif of swelling dissonance, broken by a crisp drum fill then a pounding refrain. Another shining example is “Here Comes the Night Time,” which erupts in rapid ska before slowing to carefree pop peppered with dancehall piano. Arcade Fire traverses alien terrain on Reflektor, but this frees the band to explore new outlets for its creativity that absolutely pay off by the end of the record’s 75 minutes.

Contact Erik Weiner at [email protected].