Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Year :
Broken Social Scene / Neutral Milk Hotel / LCD Soundsystem

“You need to listen on headphones” is a phrase that gets thrown around a lot among music fans. Usually, this meant as more of a nod to a record’s production value, maybe due to inventive use of stereo to create a sense of space… or maybe just because it’s music that you need to zone out to. One of the most earnest and direct “indie” bands to rise to prominence over the last decade, Arcade fire is decidedly not the kind of band you’d expect someone to encourage headphone-listening with. Their music is anthemic and communal. It begs to be blasted out of windows and experienced live.

Or, at least it has been up until this point. For the first time ever, Arcade Fire is making headphones music. But not in the way that you might expect. It’s headphones listening not because of any sonic trickery, but because this is music that suddenly demands being alone with your thoughts. Seven listens in, I am still trying to suss out “Reflektor.”

Listen number one took place on an extended car trip. There, the newly retooled sound of the band jumps out immediately. James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem, taking the helm as producer, puts his fingerprints all over “Reflektor.” It’s a bit jarring at first–”Disco?” you may find yourself wondering. On occasion, it seems a bit too overt. The vocal breakdown of “Down, down, down” sounds so much like LCD Soundsystem that it seems to serve the same purpose as an airhorn in a DJ Khaled track–it’s like branding. That said, ultimately, the shift in sound works in the grand scheme of things. More on that in a moment.

My second attempt to absorb “Reflektor” came while sitting alone at my desk with the track playing through a puny set of laptop speakers. While this is obviously never an ideal listening mode, it was revealing nevertheless. “Reflektor” sounded less like a dance track and more like a jittery build up to some cathartic release. The horns cut through a bit more. Things were starting to get interesting. Hardware limitations being what they were, however, the vocals got washed away. On to another listen.

Headphones turned out to be my entry point to “Reflektor.” It’s there that the song’s lyrics start emerge. Frontman Win Butler sings, “We fell in love, alone on a stage” before adding:

If this is heaven
I need something more
Just a place to be alone
‘Cause you’re my home

Fans of Arcade Fire know well that Butler’s wife Regine Chassagne is also a band member. She contributes vocals to “Reflektor” too, eerily singing:

Entre la nuit, la nuit et l’aurore
Entre les voyants, les vivants et les morts

Between the night, the night and the dawn
Between the kingdoms, of the living and of the dead

Unpacking these lines alone is something of a daunting task. Arcade Fire has always been uniquely direct, but these words are personal in another way entirely. Headphones seem appropriate not only from a tactical standpoint, but from an emotional one. It’s as if we’re being let in on a very personal conversation. It’s not something to be belted out with a group a friends. In this sense, Murphy’s anxious percussive flourishes work to heighten the tension. That tension, in turn, never really lets up for the duration of the song’s seven-minute runtime.

I still don’t know that I’ve got a complete handle on “Reflektor” but each listen seems to reveal a bit more. In some sense, it has the unfortunate earmarks of a break-up song–band break-up, that is. It’s got such density, though, that I have yet to even venture into the rest of the album as a whole. “Reflektor,” in that sense, is an amazingly bold way to lead off an album and, if nothing else, is more proof that Arcade Fire is the real deal. Reflektor is shaping up to be an album that I’ll be spending some time with this winter. I just hope that it’s not the last time I’ll get with the band.

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(@YahSureMan) is the Founder of The Daily Soundtrack and Bark Attack Media. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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