Tag Archives: Arcade Fire

Infinitely Content: An Album Review of Arcade Fire’s “Everything Now”

“I love you, always forever, near and far, closer together. Everywhere I will be with you, everything I will do for you.” Donna Lewis

“Keep you waiting, hour after hour. Every night in your lonely tower. Looking down at all the wreckage. When we met you’d never expect this.” Arcade Fire

 

Arcade Fire released their 5th studio album at the end of July, but I was slow to get around to listening to it. I think that was partially due to the fact that I was HOLDING A GRUDGE against them for not scheduling a concert in my hometown. And also, I guess I didn’t feel a real immediacy to learn their new songs before seeing them live again. No deadline.

I’ve seem them in concert twice before. Once in September 2010 in support of their Grammy winning “The Surburbs” album, and once in August 2014 in support of their ambitious double album “Reflektor”. Both concerts were memorable in different ways. I’ll never forget that special night that I saw them live for the first time, at a time when I maybe knew two of their songs, and the feelings/emotions that whole evening woke in me. That concert was so transformative that it was still resonating in me months later when I decided to start up this silly little blog and was trying to come up with an appropriate name for it. I always liked the idea of looking forward to that next thing, that mountain peak just beyond the ones we can see. It was something that I dreamed about ever since I had my first literal “mountaintop experience” as a child in Jasper National Park, and continued well into the digital age as I adopted the city of Calgary’s slogan as my personal hashtag: #onward. So calling my blog “Mountains Beyond Mountains” after that Arcade Fire song, seemed like a no brainer at the time. I think the name wears well. If that first concert was transformative, the second one was a celebration of sorts. Again, we were on the floor, so we could get as close to the stage as our elbows allowed, but this time we participated in some goofy parlour games led by DJ Dan Deacon before the that really seemed to bring a group of strangers together in a weirdly genuine way. Also, people were encouraged to wear costumes, so my wife had a couple of black t-shirts made up with silver lettering. Mine said “Scream” and hers said “Shout” (in reference to the chorus in “Afterlife”). We also wore mardi gras masks and boas and whatnot. Most people seemed to dress up in some way and get into the spirit of it, even if it was just a little “glitter on the cheeks”, if I may use that term. The band all wore masks and costumes and came through the crowd on their way to the stage. While the first concert felt like the beginning of something new, the second one felt like a confirmation of something great, and I was looking forward to whatever they would produce next.

What they produced next was this summer’s “Everything Now” album, and as I’ve already said, I was slow to give it a try (because I can be petty when the dark mood strikes). But one morning I was making coffee in the kitchen with CBC FM on in the background. It was playing this upbeat, hummable song that I immediately liked. It was like ABBA took the theme music for that PBS kids science show from the 1980s “3-2-1 Contact” and wrote a mash-up with members from Men Without Hats. It was high energy and I just loved how the band spit out the word “EVERYTHING” as a quick dotted eighth rhythm before landing on the next word, “NOW” on the chorus. I waited for the announcer to tell me what the song was, but it was of those situations where they must have announced it before the song started, so I didn’t find out. A couple of days later I was passing through the kitchen again and again that song was on the radio. I started singing along to the end of it and asked my wife if she knew what it was. “You don’t recognize the singer?” she said. “That’s the new Arcade Fire”. DAMN IT. It was so good my mood started to thaw, and I realized that in fact I was acting like the entitled, 21st century demanding consumer that the song was commenting on. I was the guy who wanted “Everything Now”, including a concert in his hometown, and all the songs beamed into my head. A particular lyric stuck with me: “Every song that I’ve ever heard is playing at the same time, it’s absurd.” I WAS THAT GUY. I’ve also felt that way for a while now. The guy who can’t keep up with all the content being produced and released each week, not to mention all the content that has been created since the beginning of human history that I still haven’t got around too. It’s enough to drive you to distraction, but I happy to see that one of my favourite bands was addressing the issue.

Maybe this “not seeing Arcade Fire on this tour” business would be good for my soul. At least, that’s the lie I was telling myself. So, towards the end of summer, I decided to give the album a listen.

I started a blog post on my review around then, but it got lost in the business and busyness of autumn, like so many other sparks of inspiration. But it’s back on the front burner this week because a FRIEND OF THE BLOG  (and a friend IRL, [that’s my code for ‘in real life’]) plus another POSSIBLE friend of the blog (I don’t know if she reads it) but NOT a friend IRL (only because I have never met her but I have a good feeling that we would INDEED be friends, if not good friends, or perhaps even DEAR friends (not THAT way, perv) if we ever did meet, just from the little things I have heard about her over the years that I have not known her ARE BOTH GOING TO SEE ARCADE FIRE THIS VERY FRIDAY IN OUR NATION’S SPIRITUAL IF NOT POLITICAL CAPITAL, TORONTO.

I don’t know if the PERSON WHO IS NOT MY FRIEND has been listening to the new album, but I know for a fact that the PERSON WHO IS A FRIEND OF THE BLOG AND A FRIEND IRL has NOT been listening up until today at least, so I consider this a PUBLIC SERVICE to two people, a friend and a NON-FRIEND but potential friend if life worked out differently to review the new album on these very pages today. A little “primer” in case you don’t get around to listen before Friday’s show.

It’s been a while since I’ve done an album review, so I’m a bit rusty. Do I do an overview first? It feels like Arcade Fire is just picking up where they left off with their last album, “Reflektor”. My favourite songs off that album come at the very end, “Afterlife” and “Supersymmetry”. The same thing happened with “The Suburbs”, with MBM bringing up the rear. Let me just check their first two albums and see what’s going on at the end there…be right back…okay: maybe not. Their first one ends with something called “In the Backseat”. I’ve honestly never heard that one, but it sounds a little…..you know. (And the previously one is “Rebellion (Lies)”, which I kind of hate, but it’s their “signature” song and so gets played at every concert. The only part I like about that song is when the play it before the encores, and if you get a good crowd, the crowd with keep singing the “Oh Oh Oh” part over and over until they come back to the stage, in the style of the “woah woah oh ohs” in U2’s “Pride”). For “Neon Bible”, you’ve got “My Body is a Cage “which isn’t exactly their best song off that album either. Here’s another thing I’ve just realized you guys: I don’t think I tend to listen to Arcade Fire as albums, but rather as playlists of the two concerts I’ve attended, and there are several songs that are not known to me, even to this day. Good lord, did you know there was a song called “The Well and the Lighthouse”? I mean, gosh: It actually has a lighthouse in the title. I guess I like what I like, and listen to what I like, and just reinforce that. (And no, I’m not about to start listening to the albums as albums you guys. I’m too set in my ways).

Having said all that, I think “Everything Now” works really well as an album, in the same way that “The Suburbs” does. (And maybe the others too for those of you who prefer their Arcade Fire in album groupings). The band seemed to have fun this summer promoting it too, going so far as created a fake “Everything Now” social media campaign management company that would often get into “fights” with the band and with people in the entertainment world. A good example of this was their appearance on Stephen Colbert, where they provided him with a list of absurd demands, and he happily played along. It was fun following their campaign from afar. In a moment of life imitating art, I was on Amazon the other day, and realized they have a little icon of a globe with the letters EN underneath (I assumed this was an icon indicating that I was on the English site), but the globe icon was the exact same one used by the Everything Now people, and it looked like Arcade Fire had infiltrated Amazon. It was a fun little moment for me, and I showed it to my co-worker who was not as impressed as me. In fact, I think she may have said, “at least you’re onto something different from Star Wars”. But the joke is on her, because I AM STILL DEEPLY INVESTED in Star Wars. In fact, I can’t wait for her to get in to work today so I can show her the new tv spot that has LUKE standing in the cockpit of the FALCON and I realized the last time we saw Luke on the Falcon was at the end of “Empire Strikes Back” when he was rescued from Bespin. He looks so sad standing there, no doubt thinking of his old buddy Han and the sacrifices HE made for the rebellion. I’ll probably see “The Last Jedi” about a dozen times in the theatre, you guys.

How did you guys get me started talking about Star Wars in an Arcade Fire album review? Back to the music: The album plays with the digital reality that if you are listening to this thing on anything other than vinyl, you are probably playing it on repeat, so the first and last tracks sync up into a lovely sonic Mobius strip reflecting the “Infiniteness” of their “Content” (see what I did there?) And based on computer file naming conventions, the first track is called “Everything_Now (continued)” and the last one is “Everything Now (Continued)”, not to be confused with the actual banger that blasted out of my kitchen radio all summer long, “Everything Now”, or indeed the album name, “Everything Now”. They do a similar thing at the midpoint of the album where they have two tracks back to back called Infinite Content and (you guessed it) Infinite_Content. It’s the same song, you guys, but played in two very different styles. The first being loud and upbeat and repetitive and the second being laid back, slow in the style of Iron and Wine, or maybe Calexico, and repetitive. On either side of these “Infinites Content” and in between of these “Everythings Now” you get a solid Arcade Fire album with a few notable standouts.

They start out strong with “Everything Now”, which also is the opener for their fall tour. (Okay, spoilers. Since I knew I wasn’t seeing them live, I watched their Montreal show through several different video clips on Youtube. I’m only human, you guys.) Then you get this great little number called “Signs of Life” which opens with a very Dave Brubeckian drum beat cribbed from his “Unsquare Dance”. That song made it back into the zeitgeist a little bit at the beginning of summer because there’s a scene in that movie “Baby Driver” where Kevin Spacey (BEFORE WE KNEW HE WAS A MONSTER BUT AFTER WE SUSPECTED HE WAS GAY. Those are different things Mr. Spacey but now you’ve got everyone all confused and off kilter and OH GOD here’s a new story about DUSTIN HOFFMAN so I guess we will stop talking about Kevin Spacey now and just let all this disillusionment fill us to the brim until we can’t or won’t trust or admire anyone or maybe instead we will stop and realize that there are tons of good, decent people out there who are also talented actors, directors, authors, artists and we should support those people and that maybe we CAN’T or SHOULDN’T separate the art from the person or the politics anymore and oh god I feel a headache coming on and even though “Hannah and Her Sisters” is one of my favourite movies I’m done with Woody Allen now and for good and I’m probably done with Joss Whedon and I just hope to GOD J.J. Abrams is a decent dude because I really have to see episode IX whenever they film that one oh God I am swamped by the infinite content) is telling the group the plan for the heist and there’s Baby with his Walkman on, blasting Dave Brubeck’s “Unsquare Dance” so that all you can hear is the music in that scene and it’s a montage of Kevin Spacey’s lips moving and writing on a chalk board and pointing and whatnot and at the end of the scene Kevin Spacey’s character suspects that Baby wasn’t listening to the plan and gets him to repeat it and he’s able to repeat it perfectly because it’s a savant or something. (I didn’t really follow a lot of what was going on in that movie, but I think that was my favourite scene). I’m just leaving this link to Unsquare Dance right here. You don’t have to click on it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_yExwkQYcp0

 

Next up is “Creature Comfort” which could very well be my favourite song on the album. It sounds like a classic AF tune, with a reliable, confident baseline which gives you the feeling this song knows where it’s going from the very first beat. Confident AF, you might even say. It’s a pretty hard take on suicide which I wasn’t expecting but it worked for me. “…Saying GOD, make me famous, and if you can’t then just make it painless. Just make it painless”. And later on, “It’s not painless. She was a friend of mine, a friend of mine.” And at the end, a plea for choosing to live: “Well if you’re not sure better safe than SORRY.” Reader, this song hits me in all the right spots, and it’s got a cool music video too. The band is filmed on stage in black and white, but just from the waist down, so whenever Win sings, he has to bend down to get in the frame, and then he gets out of the way when Regine picks up the “On and On” part during the chorus. It’s simple but I like it.

Not too much to say about “Peter Pan” and “Chemistry” except that they are solid tunes and grew on me after repeated listens. Then you get that weird little “Infinites Content/_Content” interlude and we are onto “Side B” for those hipsters out there who bought the vinyl.

“Electric Blue” sounds like something that Michael Jackson might have left behind for us, and it’s one of the few songs on this album where Regine takes the lead, so you know it is going to be awesome. I have a musical crush on that lady, and I’m not ashamed to admit. Is there anything she can’t do? I’m going to stop talking about Regine now, because this blog post is already at the 2500 word mark and I could easily write another 2500 words about how much I like her, so let’s just move on.

“Good God, Damn” is a somber, reflective song that sounds like it could be from the band’s “Neon Bible” era, but the cool thing about it is that it is written from the perspective of the girl in “Creature Comfort”, the girl who “fills up her bathtub” and puts on the band’s first record as she contemplates killing herself. Her faith in God is the only thing that pulls her back from the brink with the line, “Maybe there’s a good God? Damn.” And the song ends with this lovely sentiment: “Maybe there’s a good God if He made you.” That kind of gives me shivers.

“Put your Money on Me” is an upbeat, poppy number that has even more ABBAesque feel than the lead off “Everything Now”, and is just a lovely plea/love song about putting your trust in someone, despite everything else that’s going on.

And that brings us to the last song, which actually IS my favourite of the album. (“Creature Comfort” comes close, but if I had to pick just one. it would be “We don’t deserve love”).

I love the quiet, introspectiveness this song evokes; its unashamed religious imagery and direct questions to God, wondering if we still deserve love after all that we’ve done to this world, or do we deserve to be abandoned? “Mary, roll away that stone. The men that you love always leave you alone.” I like this line too, “If you can’t see the forest for the trees, then burn it all down. And bring the ashes to me.” and how it goes into that pseudo-chorus that makes me think of the chorus of Donna Lewis’ “I love you, always forever, near and far, closer together. Everywhere I will be with you, everything I will do for you.” In many ways, “Always Forever” is a perfect companion piece to “We don’t deserve Love” and I can’t help wonder if Win and Regine had this song in mind when they wrote, “Keep you waiting, hour after hour. Every night in your lonely tower. Looking down at all the wreckage. When we met you’d never expect this.” And you get those beautiful haunting harmonies from Regine that float over the rest of the song before the end which I can’t help but sing along with every time I hear it. It brought me to a stop the first time I heard it, and it still makes me want to come back again and again. Maybe it’s true that we don’t deserve love, or a concert in our own city, or any of the great things we have in our lives right now. Maybe we can’t see the grace through all the noise, but it’s there. This song reminds us of it.

And before we can think too long or deeply on this, we are swept back into the infinite loop of Everything Now (Continued) and we kick things off again from the top with another run through. The anguish of “Creature Comfort” is given deeper meaning now that we know about “Good God, Damn”‘s perspective, and we now know we get to hear the beauty and heartbreak of “We don’t deserve Love” again and again.

What more could you ask for from an album?

Just one or two more things and then you’re free to go. It wouldn’t be a MBM blog post without a list or ranking of some sort, so how does “Everything Now” fit into the rankings of the rest of the AF albums, I hear you asking?

5. Funeral. Come at me, hipsters! I know this is their debut album, and I’m sure it’s the only good one and after that they sold out, etc etc, but I can’t listen to it. It makes me feel cold and sad, all those songs back to back. I can take some individual songs one by one, like Neighbour #1 (Tunnels) with all that imagery of digging tunnels between kids’ bedrooms and whatnot. I revealed earlier that I don’t like “Rebellion (Lies)” and I also don’t really like “Wake Up”, but for a different reason. I don’t like it because it means their concert is about to come to an end, and that makes me sad too. So I guess if I was in a super good mood and feeling pretty good about myself then maybe I’d put this album on to bring me back to Earth? It hasn’t happened yet. I can relate to the unnamed woman in “Creature Comfort” who chose this album when she was thinking about suicide. That sounds about right.

4. Neon Bible. Okay, I know this album has some great songs, like “No Cars Go”, “Intervention” “Keep the Car Running” and “AntiChrist Television Blues” but it doesn’t really hold together for me, and songs like “Neon Bible” “Black Mirror” and “My Body is a Cage” suck the life out of me. If I can say anything positive about these first two albums, it’s that they show great potential, and the band keeps getting better and better as they go along.

3. Reflektor. Maybe the sprawling double album concept resulted in a lack of focus or theme for most people, but there is some really great stuff here, and I love to make my way through all of the songs on here when I put it on. My daughter used to call “Bring on the Night Time” the “song that goes slow and then goes fast” so I always think of that when I listen to it, and of course I think of that fun night in August 2014 where I was reunited with my musical pals. And “Afterlife” is right up there along with “Mountains Beyond Mountains” for me, with all of its New Orderly goodness.

2. Everything Now. No joke, I’m sticking this one at #2. Maybe because it is still fresh in my ears and I’m giving it a little bit of “recent bias”, but I like what this album has to say about the state of our world, I love the songs, the messages, and am grateful that even though we might not deserve love, we are still getting love in the form of this beautiful album.

1. The Suburbs. No surprise here, right? It was this album with which I first connected to Arcade Fire, and so it will always remain number one in my heart. “2009, 2010. I want to make a record of how I felt then” pretty much sums it up. I think of autumn, of new friends, of the excitement of new beginnings, of bitter nostalgia, of escaping on road trips, unexpected emotions, and the promise and hope of Mountains Beyond Mountains.

 

 

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Scream and Shout

“I have no feeling for you now. Now that I know you better.” Arcade Fire

I’ve said most of all this before, but I feel like I need to say most of it again.

Bear with.

Last week Arcade Fire came to town. It’s been four years since I first saw them. At that time, I knew next to nothing about them. If I had to say anything at all I’d say they were a band from Ottawa and they had one song that I sort of recognized (Rebellion: Lies) and that they opened for U2 at some point. Those 3 facts were all I had going into the concert, and one of them was wrong. They weren’t even from Ottawa, they were from Montreal. The only reason I was going to the concert was because someone I knew had somehow ended up buying an extra ticket and offered it to me. I was going to be sitting up in the stands with a group of people I didn’t know, which I was okay with.  Then a day or so before the concert I got a call saying that someone who had a floor ticket would actually prefer a seat and would I be willing to switch? I was willing, as long as the floor ticket didn’t cost me any more, and as it turned out it didn’t.

So there I was, standing amongst a group of people I didn’t know very well about to listen to a band I knew so little about. I mean, I wasn’t that brutal, okay. I mean I did know slightly more than the two facts and the one lie that I mentioned in the first paragraph, but not much more. I borrowed the three CDs that were out at that time and tried to “binge listen” to the band for a couple of weeks before the show. I loved The Suburbs album (their newest at the time, only out for a month then) through and through, couldn’t get into Neon Bible at all except for “Intervention” and I scarcely gave Funeral a listen at all beforehand. But as the concert started and I saw what a live Arcade Fire concert was all about, something broke in me. I was transfixed by Win’s guitar playing, cool showmanship and crowd interaction, and I’m not sure I can adequately describe what happened to me watching Régine sing, dance, and play multiple instruments throughout the night. The fact that I caught myself singing falsetto along with Régine’s part in “Intervention” during the encore or the fact that I named this blog after one of her signature songs probably says it all. And the now famous “rain jacket incident” has become a local legend among my younger cousins who always ask me to tell the story at family gatherings. I’m always happy to oblige.

After that night, I became a little obsessed with the band. I made a playlist of the concert out of the album tracks and played it nonstop in the car and everywhere else. My wife, who knew about as much about the band beforehand, couldn’t get away from the sound of Arcade Fire, and either she was going to hate them or fall in love with them too. Luckily, it was the latter, and she often would express regret at not taking the night off work and coming to the concert with me. I would hear or see Arcade Fire everywhere after that. It wasn’t hard. They become the darlings of the awards circuit, even winning a number of Grammys and prompting the now infamous “Who the F*ck is Arcade Fire?” tumblr account. Is that account still in existence? Do we have time to link to it? I’m being told we have time. Okay, everyone. Here’s the link. Enjoy. Wow, I really didn’t think I’d get an opportunity to link to that tumblr page again. I guess stuff really does stick around online, huh?

At that time, it was so unusual for me to get into a new band. I thought my musical tastes were pretty much set by my mid-30’s, and it was such a fun and exciting thing to find something new and genuinely love it. The last big “addition” to my musical soundscape was probably Coldplay five years before Arcade Fire. Since then, I’m happy to say that I’ve be open to learning about new bands and musicians, partially through exposure through the CBC, but also learning about bands from friends who are way cooler than me. Some of it I like, others not so much, but none of it really altered me the way that night with Arcade Fire did in 2010.

So life moves on, as it usually does, and last summer we heard rumours of a new Arcade Fire album and tour in 2014. Did four years really just go by? Was my daughter, who was barely walking the last time I saw the band about to be entering kindergarten? Later on that fall, the rumours were confirmed and our city would see them come in August. The same friend that offered me that extra ticket four years ago really went to bat and was able to get floor tickets again, but this time we made sure my wife could go too. There was NO WAY she was going to miss seeing Arcade Fire this time round. As the long winter wore on, we got familiar with the new double album, Reflektor, and thought about summer. For my birthday, my wife presented me with a black t-shirt with silver lettering that simply said, “SCREAM”.

I didn’t get it. A shirt celebrating that 1990’s horror franchise? The first was good, but I’m not sure I need a t-shirt for it…..WAIT! She produced a second shirt in her size that had the same silver lettering but this one said “SHOUT” and then the penny dropped. One of the best songs off of the new album is called “Afterlife” and the chorus goes something like “Can we just work it out? Scream and Shout. Til we work it out. Can we just work it out. Scream and Shout…..” and all of a sudden we had our concert gear lined up. The band requested that fans dress up either in formal wear or in costumes for the concert (for fun!) and so we kind of did this hybrid thing where we wore these shirts and I had a mask and a flowery lei and my wife had flowers in her hair and a feather boa.

The night was finally here, and I was just as excited for my wife to see them for the first time in person as I was for seeing them a second time. The group we were with was similar and yet different from the 2010 group. As the Pet Shop Boys eloquently put it, “Some were here and some were missing.” After a great opening act by the energetic tuUnE-yArDs and a fun DJ/dance party set by Dan Deacon, the band entered the arena from the back and walked through the crowd wearing huge papier-mache masks. They were going to walk right by us! I was skeptical at first that they were the actual band and not decoys, but then my wife shouted, “There’s Win!” and sure enough, he seemed to be the only one walking in the group without a mask. Even though he is well over 6 feet tall, he seemed diminished by the spectacle and almost shy as he passed by within a couple of feet of us. But as the processional got closer to the stage, something sparked up in him and he ran up into the stands, grabbed a beer from someone, took a slurp and jumped on the stage to begin the show with “Here Comes the Night Time”, one of the new ones. The band changes up the set list order almost every night on this tour, and an encore song one night might be the opener the next, so we really didn’t know what we would hear and in what order. This suited me just fine, as I was happy just to be in the presence of this band for a couple of hours and let them play whatever they wanted. There were hardly any breaks between songs, just long enough to allow the musicians to change up their instruments or grab a quick sip of water. Highlights for me personally were singing along to “No Cars Go” (and shouting “Hey!” at the right times, something I couldn’t master in 2010), merrily shouting “2009! 2010! I wanna make a record of how I felt then!” during “Month of May” and of course geeking out over “Afterlife” when it finally appeared late in the main set. A very cool bit followed where Régine was on a b-stage scissor lift with a dude in a skeleton costume echoing the chorus of “Oh Orpheus!” with Win and the rest of the band on the main stage. “It’s never over It’s never over It’s never over It’s never over It’s never over” over and over again and eventually morphing into “Sprawl II: Mountains Beyond Mountains” to end the main set.

Whatever spell was cast over me in 2010 was somehow lifted last week when I finally saw Arcade Fire again, fulfilling a need that took four full years to work through. That brokenness inside me somehow healed a little bit.Or maybe the scar tissue aches a little less. Or are these just the lies we tell ourselves? I really wouldn’t want to compare and contrast the two concert experiences. Both were wonderful in their own ways, and for very different reasons. When I saw them in 2010, everything seemed new in my life. Four years later, less so. Things seem more worn, more worn out, less certain, perhaps less hopeful? It’s hard to say really. There was a certain sense of coming full circle, of completing something that needed completing, of saying goodbye to a particular longing, and accepting a new reality.

And if the old spell was broken, was a new one cast?

It’s too early to tell, I think. Maybe we will need another full four years to really see how it all turns out.

Although if “Month of May” was a record of how I felt then, perhaps everything feeling “like a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection of a reflection” is how I feel now.

Dead shopping malls rise like mountains beyond mountains.

Dead shopping malls STILL rise like mountains beyond mountains.

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Reflektions

Arcade Fire’s newest album, “Reflektor” is released on October 29. What is the term the music industry likes to use? Dropped? It’s gonna drop people! Watch out. So if you were a musician, could you refer to your body of work as your droppings? Does anyone know where that term came from? Anyone? I blame the rap world. (I don’t even know what that means.)

But that’s not why you dialed in today, is it? No. You’re here for the latest droppings from Mountains Beyond Mountains. A lot going on in the editorial offices this week. Fort Building! Late nights! Workshops on how to respect diversity. (A side note: maybe the instructor shouldn’t have kept using the term “low man on the totem pole” when describing something, right. Racist!)

But back to Arcade Fire. (Or is it The Arcade Fire.) Oh life, so full of ambiguity!

This is a perfect time to link to that old chestnut, the “Who is Arcade Fire?” tumblr account that gathered up our collective ignorance after they won the Grammy for Best Album way back in 2011. I know it’s old, but it’s still kinda makes me smile, IF ONLY BECAUSE I KNEW WHO ARCADE FIRE WAS THEN AND I FELT A LITTLE SMUG. (not to be confused with SMAUG, in theatres at Christmas, motherfuckers! I am told it is pronounced SMOOOOAUUGGG, so make sure you get it right, lest you look like a dummy.)

I knew who Arcade Fire, but just barely. I love their song “Month of May” off of The Suburbs because they talk about “2009, 2010, I want to make a record of how I felt then.” because when I think of Arcade Fire, I think of 2009, 2010 and what was going on in our lives. A lot of changes in that period: we successfully adopted our baby girl, we became friends with a group of new people, my wife changed jobs after coming off maternity leave, and I finally joined the digital age and got an iPod. In a weird way, each of those events had a hand in making me into an Arcade Fire fan, and so when I listen to Arcade Fire in general and The Suburbs in particular, I am taken back to the summer of 2010 when The Suburbs was released. (I can’t quite bring myself to say “dropped”, I’m sorry).

Before that time, I was vaguely aware of who Arcade Fire was. I knew (thought) that they were Canadian, but if I had to say from where, I would have said Ottawa, which would have been wrong. I knew that they opened for U2 on the Vertigo Tour in 2005 and almost got a chance to see them but instead we got some forgettable band called “Dashboard Confessional” in Milwaukee that year. (Apologies to any Dashboard Confessional fans out there. Why do I say such hurtful things?) The only song I knew of theirs was “Rebellion (Lies)” from their first album, probably due to osmosis from heavy radio rotation.

So when the new Arcade Fire album was released, I was surprised at the buzz I felt coming off of people I knew who were fans of the band. In fact, I remember one friend going to a couple of different record stores to actually buy the physical album so that she could listen to it in the car ride out my in-law’s cottage. I was happy for them, but didn’t actually pay much attention to any of it. I played around with the interactive video for “We used to wait” where you can upload of picture of your childhood home from Google Street view and then it incorporates it into the video, but I was using our ancient iMac and it didn’t seem to work properly so I took people’s word that it was cool. I did borrow their second album, Neon Bible from the library just to see what the fuss was all about, and I lightly listened to it, noting that “Intervention”, “No Cars Go” and “Keep the Car Running” were standouts for me on first listen.

That September, Arcade Fire was scheduled to play a concert in our city. I was asked if I wanted to go and I said, “No thanks.” because (and this is the geekiest excuse ever), it fell on choir night (but also because, like I said before, I didn’t really know them), and that was fine.

But then a couple of weeks before the concert, I was asked again because there was an extra ticket purchased and I thought, “Why the hell not?” and said I’d go. I felt like I needed to bone up on the band and cram three albums’ worth of material into my headspace in 14 days. I asked around which songs were people’s favourites, and it was really difficult to get a consensus, but I sort of get it. Being a huge U2 fan, I have my favourites, but to actually choose one or two songs to represent them at the expense of others? Pretty difficult. I focused instead on listening to the new album, reasoning that they will probably play a good number of songs off of it. I tried my best to be “ready to start” but I’m not sure anything would have prepared me for that night. (see what I did there?)

A night or two before the show, I was called again, asking if I wanted to have a floor ticket instead of being up in the stands (apparently someone who had a floor ticket decided that they would have preferred sitting). I was worried it was going to be more money, and I wasn’t prepared to pay more for a band I barely knew, but when it turned out the tickets were the same price, I jumped at the chance! A  floor ticket! I had never stood on the floor before for a concert. I had floor seats when there were actual seats, but this would be a new experience for me.

So the night of the concert came, and not only did I have access to the floor, my friends offered to pick up me. (My wife had to work that night, and still regrets to this day that she missed the concert. She too was not a fan, but has subsequently become as big an admirer as me. I don’t remember what we did with our daughter. There must have been a babysitter involved at some point.) I felt like I was a concert winner. Floor ticket! Chauffeur service! I half expected to arrive and be ushered backstage for a meet and greet.

It would be weird to review a concert three years after the fact, but the reality is that the night remains for me to be one of those really special, memorable nights for many reasons, not the least of which was to experience a wonderful concert with the most amazing vantage point in the whole arena. We were pretty much in the center a few people back from the stage, so when the band came on (all 17 of them or whatever) they completed filled our line of vision. It was like watching a 3D IMAX movie but without the glasses. I immediately got into what the lead singer Win Butler was all about, and I pretty much instantly fell in love with his wife, Regine, in everything she was doing on stage. It’s no coincidence that when I started this blog a few months later, I would take as it’s title an Arcade Fire song sung by her. And the opening band Calexico, was perfect too. I knew more of them than I actually did of Arcade Fire going in. (I had a couple of their CDs in the ol’ iPod). During their set, Calexico played a cover of Love’s song “Alone Again Or” which was featured in Wes Anderson’s “Bottle Rocket” and I mistakenly thought that Calexico was on the “Bottle Rocket” soundtrack for a while after that. I have since bought Love’s album Forever Changes that has the original version. At one point during Arcade Fire’s set, the horn section from Calexico came out to perform “Ocean of Noise”, which was so cool because Calexico actually recorded the original version for their Funeral album. Maybe Arcade Fire will trot out David Bowie for Reflektor in their upcoming tour?

It was a cool rainy night, and I had my MEC windbreaker on over my t shirt and decided to take it off and tie it around my waist instead of trying to hold on to it. This worked out okay for the first little while, but I felt the arms of the jacket loosening no matter how many times I tried to tighten it, at one point the jacket fell down around my ankles. I wasn’t about to bend over “mid song” and try to tie it up again, so I left it until there was an appropriate break. That break came a couple of songs later between encores. I had just retied the jacket around my waist when I got pushed hard from behind. It wasn’t the person doing the pushing’s fault, he was just riding the wave of a surge of people trying to get as close as possible for the finale. If my jacket had still been around my ankles, I surely would have tripped and fallen to the concrete floor with the possibility of getting trampled in the process. As it was, I just stumbled a couple of steps ahead, and without thinking, turned around and pushed as hard as I could back and the surge pulsed to another part of the floor. I was moshing, people! A minute or so later, this dude with muppety hair came bouncing in to our “personal space” and threatened to knock me and my friend over, so I sort of created this weird, mostly ineffective barrier between this muppet and my friend. My motivations were two-fold. Sure I didn’t want my friend to suffer the same fate as I did with the windbreaker incident, but more selfishly, she was my ride home and if she got knocked to the ground where would that leave me? Luckily, the muppet moved on and we could enjoy the rest of the concert without incident.

I could go on and on about that evening, but its hard to find the appropriate words sometimes and “amazing” and “awesome” get overused, so we’ll just have to rely on our memories of that night, Prince style.

After the concert, I made a playlist on the iPod. It’s still one of the most played lists to this day. Since then, I’ve listened to Funeral, Neon Bible and The Suburbs front to back, and even tracked down their EP. I’ve stayed up late to watch them at Coachella (online, silly), and PVRed them on Austin City Limits and the late night talk show circuit. I’m not sure when exactly I became a “fan” but seeing them live that night in September was a huge part of that transformation.

Which brings us to today.

In September, the first single was released. I first heard it in a hotel room in Minneapolis, appropriately enough, on that same friend’s iPad, the one that got me the floor ticket to the concert in 2010. It sounded like a dance mix, which stands to reason, as James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem and Union Sound Hall produced it. But it also distinctly sounded like “Arcade Fire”, so I was pretty excited. A few days later, the official video was released, and the song grew on me even more.

Last night, someone I follow on twitter was talking about how much he was enjoying the new Arcade Fire album and I thought to myself, “Show off. He must have got an early copy somewhere”, but then I heard that a rough version of it leaked onto Youtube, and the band decided to release a much higher quality version themselves.

So that’s what I’ve been doing this morning. It’s been playing in the background in my office as I’m working. I’m not going to do a “track by track” review as I sometimes do, because I haven’t been able to give it my full attention. I CAN say that I am really enjoying what I’ve been hearing so far, and can’t wait to delve more deeply into it in the next few days and weeks. It starts off strong with “Reflektor” and other standouts so far are “It’s never over” and “Bring on the Night Time”. It’s a two album release, with a combined playing time of 1 hour 25 minutes. I haven’t quite got through the whole thing yet, so THIS REVIEW IS IN REAL TIME, people! (Porno has just started. I like the groove of it). Just one of the value added services we offer to you the reader.

Instead of just a static album cover, the album is being streamed over the pictures of this crazy looking Brazilian film, “Black Orpheus”. I have no idea what the connection is, except the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice seems to be a recurring thread amongst these songs. Oh, and speaking of literary references, I just found out last week that the line, “Never Trust a Millionaire, quoting the Sermon on the Mount” is actually taken from an essay by George Orwell and that George Orwell is one of Win Butler’s favourite writers.

I haven’t been following the Black Orpheus movie that closely, but it seems like your typical “boy meets girl” kind of thing, EXCEPT THAT OVER “It’s never over” THE BOY IS DRESSED LIKE A ROMAN GLADIATOR AND HE IS IN A MORGUE OR SOMETHING. (Spoiler).

Okay, and “Afterlife” has a pretty nice “New Order” vibe to it, which is making this writer very happy indeed. “Can we just work it out? Can we just work it out?…..”

And I think that’s all I got for now.

Questions?

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Did Juno there was an awards show last night?

Well the Junos happened last night. Congratulations to Arcade Fire, who won 3 awards last night and one the night before. A much different reception up here in Canada than at this year’s Grammy awards. This tumblr account has done a great job gathering up the various negative and ignorant backlash responses to this band’s unexpected Grammy win. I think they were going in as the favourite last night, but it was still nice to see them recognized. I could probably write an entirely separate post about how I came to love this band, and maybe I will some day. Fans will recognize that I take the name of my Blog from one of the songs off of “The Suburbs”. In the meantime, here’s a well written article about them and their win. (And for the record, I am dropping the “The” in front of Arcade Fire. And I am going with ebooks over e-books, so there.)

Win and Regine of Arcade Fire

I really enjoyed the Junos last night, maybe because I was happy with who was winning. The highlight for me included the tribute to Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Neil Young and The Band sung by Sarah Harmer, Blue Rodeo, The Sadies, Serena Ryder and Sarah Slean. I also thought Daniel Lanois stole the show with his low-key introduction to Neil Young as he received the Allan Waters humanitarianism award. Lanois shuffled onto the stage with his notes written on the back of a creased piece of lined music paper. He started by saying “OK, what are we doing here now? Oh yeah. Neil Young.” I didn’t realize he was so funny, and it was the first time I saw him since his terrible motorcycle accident last June, and it was gratifying seeing him back to full form. Coincidentially, I just finished reading “Soul Mining, A Musical Life” by Lanois, telling his story. I like how it was written without the aid of a ghostwriter, and you can tell. There’s nothing fancy about it, just him telling some stories about his own musical philosophy and work ethic. It’s not a tell-all book, but he does tell stories about some of the big names he’s collaborated with over the years, including Brian Eno, Bob Dylan and of course U2. It’s a book by a musician, written for musicians, and some of it was over my head. It felt like spending a day following him around as little pearls of wisdom were dispensed without coaxing. The great thing with Lanois is that he doesn’t really impose his sound on others. Listening to Lanois’ own stuff, you don’t really hear it on other’s records. He’s a bit of a musical chameleon who is able to take a good band and make them better. Or maybe not better, but he is able to bring out something deeper out of what is already there. I liked the story of recording “Where the Streets have no Name” during The Joshua Tree sessions. I had heard this story before, but never from Lanois’ point of view. The timing and key changes are quite complicated, and the band was having a difficult time keeping together. Daniel Lanois stood at the front of the studio with a chalkboard and a pointer, like a grade-school teacher, with the different chord changes and time signatures mapped out. He’d point to a chord when it was time to change. Bono, normally in control, was humbled and eventually called uncle and told everyone “Just tell me when to come in.”

Lanois and U2 working on "No Line on the Horizon" in Morocco

Still, the Junos couldn’t escape some mis-steps. Each time they came back from commercial, we were shown clips of various musicians and celebrities over the years reminding us how great a country is Canada. Do we really still suffer from such collective low self-esteem that we need Yoko Ono to tell us how we inspired “Give Peace a Chance”?

And there there’s Justin Bieber.

We couldn’t escape him, obviously. The little guy wasn’t even in attendance; he was on tour in Europe. This didn’t stop his presence from being felt. He participated via Skype in the opening skit with host Drake, and he won the people’s choice Juno and some other one. Each time there was a pre-recorded message from the Biebs giving a shout out to all the fans. This had me thinking: Did the Biebs know he won ahead of time, or did he record acceptance videos for all his categories as a precaution? I guess it doesn’t really matter. These aren’t the Oscars, after all.

The Junos ended with a crazy performance by Chromeo, a Montreal based group that were a lot of fun. This year’s Juno’s really went in the right direction: performance heavy and award light. I’d like to see them take it even further and give out all the awards the night before, and have the broadcast be a massive 3 hour concert and celebration made up of a cross-section of as many nominees as possible. Wouldn’t that be fun? You could have Contemporary Christian/Gospel nominees teamed up with Blues nominees, you could pair up classical and electronic and do something cool. Spoken Word nominees could read snippets from their work over top of musicians from the Instrumental category? Why not? And who wouldn’t enjoy hearing the Children’s Album nominees do a number with Arcade Fire?

Come on fan base! The three of us can make it happen!

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