Arcade Fire in Ten

As much as I consume and appreciate music, there are few bands and artists I actively follow, in the sense that a new album release is a day one purchase for me and I will endeavour to see their latest live show when they come to tour. Roughly a decade since their breakthrough debut album Funeral, it’s safe to say that Arcade Fire has earned that place for me. Having recently seen a pretty stonking show at Earls Court, I am now even more excited for their headlining slot at Glastonbury, so now seems a good a time as any to pick out ten tracks of theirs in an arbitrary fashion as is the case with these kind of features.

This list is not necessarily representative of their oeuvre (though the choices are fairly evenly spread), does not cater specifically for novice or expert, and I would not even consider them all the ‘best’ tracks. It’s a mix of the essentials and the underappreciated, the minor triumphs and the major triumphs. Any other day, I might pick a different ten. But here, for now, is my Arcade Fire in Ten.

  1. Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) – from Funeral

For many and for myself, the first song of theirs I heard (being that it is track one, album one), and also quite possibly my favourite – which perhaps suggests the band has just gotten subsequently worse ever since. Nostalgic for an imagined past, making the intimate feel epic and vice-versa, ‘Tunnels’ sets the scene for everything to come, and works as a perfect encapsulation of the Arcade Fire sound.

  1. Wake Up – from Funeral

Two for two from Funeral (well, it is my favourite album of theirs still). And the epic conclusion to many a live show. Its sing-a-long-a quality is unmatched, something I sometimes find irksome at gigs, but given there are usually so many members on stage doing the same thing, it seems appropriate to join in the crowd. And a song this grandiose deserves it. But that it works as a beautiful semi-stripped-back version for the trailer for occasional collaborator Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are is further proof of its quality regardless of how many people are shouting in unison.

  1. Keep The Car Running – from Neon Bible

A song I listened to a great deal when I first got hold of the album. I was in Japan at the time, and had the whole of Neon Bible was on heavy rotation, and despite its doom and gloom, I found it comforting, a strange reminder of home. ‘Keep The Car Running’ in particular would often accompany my long walk from the station back to my dorm, and dark rainy nights and this song feel inseparable to me now.

  1. Half Light I – from The Suburbs

There are showier, bigger, more typically Arcade Fire tracks on their third album. And as good as they are, I don’t think any of them quite as close to those on Funeral or Neon Bible, so it’s the smaller songs from that album that I find the most interesting. And ‘Half Light I’ is remarkably effective, quiet and understated at first but building into something unexpectedly powerful.

  1. Neighborhood #2 (Laika) – from Funeral

Here’s another song that evokes a yearning for home and family and one that also seems appropriate whenever travelling and away from loved ones. Arcade Fire:the melancholic backpacker’s soundtrack of choice. Perhaps the second best song referencing a dog in space (see also Hank Pine and Lily Fawn), ‘Laika’ could easily be swapped out for any other track on Funeral perhaps, but it simply gets me every time.

  1. (Antichrist Television Blues) – from Neon Bible

A tough choice picking between this and ‘Intervention’ or ‘Windowsill’ for the songs from Neon Bible that are heavy on lyrics, both in quantity and subject matter, and the album’s themes. Bit much for some, but I personally love them all. ‘(Antichrist Television Blues)’ (these guys sure love parentheses, right?) just about pips it for Win Butler’s delivery, filled with sadness, anger, hope, just about everything really. It’s a hell of a performance.

  1. Reflektor – from Reflektor

On hearing the title track from Arcade Fire’s most recent release, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it, despite its credentials (LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy producing, King Zavid on backing vocals – having previous form on this version of ‘Wake Up’ here). But it swiftly won me over, and a clear statement of the album as a whole. It does seem a roundabout way of doing it, putting an awful lot of work into sounding more spontaneous, and seems to turn into Metronomy’s ‘The Look’ – though there is past form here, with ‘Sprawl II’ evoking Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’ and ‘Wake Up’ transmuting into The Jam’s ‘A Town Called Malice’. Yet ‘Reflektor’ remains bubbling, exciting, groovy and infectious.

  1. Empty Room – from The Suburbs

Another short and sweet number from The Suburbs, it’s filled with stabbing, driving urgency. It’s a shame it doesn’t seem to have risen high in the ranks of must-listen album tracks, perhaps on account of it not really going anywhere over a short space of time. But if it’s effectively jogging on the spot in album terms, it is doing it very very well in my view.

  1. It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus) – from Reflektor

One of Reflektor’s later and less party-primed tracks, ‘It’s Never Over’ comes out rocking but winds up something darker and deeper. Fair enough. But seeing it performed live at Earls Court, complete with Win Butler and Régine Chassagne (plus backing skeletons) dueting on different stages and separated by a sea of audience members, was what really sold it for me. And basing this song (and indeed the album cover) on one of my favourite Greek myths helps a bunch too.

  1. Headlights Look Like Diamonds – from Arcade Fire EP

And finally, the token pre-album/curio/B-side track! One could cheat and go with ‘No Cars Go’, a re-recorded version of which would later appear on Neon Bible, but as a blueprint for what Arcade Fire would go on to create, it serves as a useful primer, while being a pretty great song in its own right.

10 Arcade Fire tracks there in a fairly solid order of preference, and if you fancy hearing them all in a slightly different, deliberately curated order, then I’ve prepared a Spotify playlist which you can stream below, or simply click here to open.

 

 

Viewing Gum Listening Post #14

Okay 2013 – this year is getting RIDICULOUS for music from some of my favourite artists. Not only that, so many great new side projects and emerging talents too. It’s hard keeping track, even on a weekly basis, of all the neat stuff coming out, but hey, I’ve tried my best to distill a selection here, and there are some big hitters too. Click here to launch the playlist, or stream below!

 

  1. Janelle Monáe – Givin Em What They Love [feat. Prince]
  2. Arcade Fire – Reflektor
  3. Franz Ferdinand – Evil Eye
  4. MGMT – Mystery Disease
  5. Kings of Leon – Supersoaker
  6. Golden Suits – Swimming in ’99
  7. CHVRCHES – Lungs
  8. Big Black Delta – Capsize
  9. Chrome Canyon – Generations
  10. Baths – Ironworks
  11. Goldfrapp – Drew

2010: Music of the Year

I spent every one of the preceding three hundred and sixty five days, now lost to the annals of history and all things intangible, filling my earholes with someone else’s made-up words and noises, and now I present to you ten such collections over that course of time that particularly tweaked the part of my brain that responds favourably to music.

10. The Dead Weather – Sea of Cowards

Little Jack White has so many thumbs in musical pies at any one time, it seems like everyone forgets to bat an eyelid his way when he unleashes yet another rock glob on the populous even if it is still royally deserved. So, with a quick turnaround second album from the other band that isn’t The Raconteurs, it was like Consolers of the Lonely all over again. Which is a shame, as it is rollicking good fun from start to finish, with piss and vinegar seeping from its wet black jeans. Not a pretty image, but an image nonetheless.

> > > Hustle and Cuss

9. LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening

I’m pretty late to the LCD Soundsystem party (a great oversight on my part), but thankfully rectified with Mr James Murphy’s third (and final?) outing of liquid crystal disco. It sounds effortlessly cool, but there’s so much going on, it’s just plain fun to listen to, dance to and do just about anything to – be it the washing up, filling out an application form or being attacked by PANDUHS!

> > > Drunk Girls

8. Fukurouzu – Loop Suru

A pure punt of a purchase based on hours spent in HMV and Tower Records in Shinjuku and Shibuya at their countless listening posts sampling as much as was currently riding the Japan-o-charts, and it’s only really a mini-album, comprising seven tracks from this new indie group. But every track is superb, each different but just as good as the last. I look forward to whatever they do next.

> > > Dekinai

7. PVT – Church With No Magic

An interesting departure from 2008’s brilliant O Soundtrack My Heart (under their then-name of Pivot), with a darker moodier synth-led atmosphere and added lyrics, though ultimately the singing is just another layer of sound than making their output any more conventional. In fact, it’s probably a harder sell than their instrumental-only work. Still, despite the decidedly iffy title track, Church With No Magic (the album) is an overall success from a band that won’t let expectations get in the way of invention.

> > > Window

6. Charlotte Gainsbourg – IRM

Sure, she’s not the greatest singer, but, aware that her personality and heritage are integral to her success, she clearly knows who will best utilise these to create terrific tracks. 5:55 saw her collaborate with Air, Neil Hannon and Jarvis Cocker. But this time around it was Beck on songsmith duties (a role repeated as principal penner for Sex Bob-omb in the year’s third best movie Scott Pilgrim vs The World), and such a creative union brought about this rather fine selection of ditties.

> > > Heaven Can Wait

5. MGMT – Congratulations

With many a semi-psychedelic catchy-riff festival anthem under their belts (despite still being a disappointing live act) from Oracular Spectacular, follow-up Congratulations could have easily been more of the same. Instead, they went and did something even better, creating a spiralling dizzy mix of magic and wonder that harked back to decades gone by with both joy and sadness. A surprising and mature album that defies the flash-in-the-pan success I expected from them. Congratulations.

> > > Congratulations

4. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

Blah-blah-blah, not as good as Funeral. Blah-blah-blah, no-one liked Neon Bible anyway. Well, The Suburbs, on its own terms, is a plenty good album. Sure, it could probably lose a few tracks around the middle, but it manages to capture a different feel to their previous offerings, yet still remains distinctively Arcade Firey. There are obvious highlights (Ready to Start, Rococo, Empty Room, Sprawl II) from the get-go, but as a whole, it’s a definite grower and one I’m looking forward to returning to in the months and years to come.

> > > The Suburbs

3. World’s End Girlfriend – Seven Idiots

Is there no end to this man’s mind-boggling talent? A release on his new Virgin Babylon Records label and a late entry into my top ten, it’s also my favourite Japanese release I’ve heard this year. A throwback to the electro-scrambling of his earlier work but still retaining the classical beauty and dark atmosphere of Hurtbreak Wonderland, Seven Idiots is hard to pin down, but an irresistible treat for WEG acolytes, and probably as good as any place to begin for the freshman.

> > > Les Enfants du Paradis

2. Yeasayer – ODD BLOOD

If I still had albums on cassettes, Yesayer’s latest would be one worn-out tape this year, which would have required a lot of unspooling and respooling when not jammed into my chunky old walkman. Luckily, the digital age avoids such wear and tear, so I was free to enjoy every one of the wonderful songs in ODD BLOOD on heavy rotation. Refreshingly upbeat and positive, it’s stirring stargazing stuff.

> > > Ambling Alp

1. Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

My new favourite lady of song and dance, and while I would usually do that terrible thing one does about things they love by secretly hoping it’s never popular so it can be your own special thing, I wish Ms Monae every success that comes her way. In this day and age of Lady Gaga left right and centre, here’s an artist with style AND substance. And some killer moves to boot.

The ArchAndroid represents Suites II and III of her Metropolis saga (begun with the equally wonderful The Chase EP), featuring a time-travelling plot of forbidden love, the suppression of robotkind, and t-t-tipping on a tightrope. But what really marks The ArchAndroid out from the pack is the diverse range of musical showmanship and craft throughout the album, hopping from genre to genre with every track, yet all tied together by the narrative through-line and Monae’s incredible range. Rock, jazz, classical, folk, funk, soul, electronica…all bases covered, all boxes ticked, all with relish and fun, but with surprising depth and meaning.

It’s wonderful to have an artist so resolute in breaking down boundaries, avoiding categorisation and celebrating differences rather than conforming to mainstream expectations or whatever is ‘hip’ or ‘cool’ in any given week. What the world needs now is a little bit of Janelle Monae.

> > > Tightrope

If the list and YouTube links were not enough to satisfy, I’ve also knocked up a playlist featuring tracks from some of the albums above, as well as a bunch of my other tip-top tracks of the year, in a handy one-size-fits-all Spotify playlist.

LISTEN NOW: 20×2010