1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die
Arcade Fire was news to many of the viewers of the 2011 Grammys when it won the album of the year award for their third album “The Suburbs.” To quote the editor-in-chief at my paper: “What is a Arcade Fire?” To those hip to the indie-rock scene, the award was no surprise as the band was one of the most critically acclaimed groups of the past decade. Their debut “Funeral” and the album at hand, “Neon Bible,” were on best-of lists everywhere.
One quality that makes Arcade Fire a favorite (but does elicit some groans from others) is the band’s epic nature. Vocalist/mastermind Win Butler doesn’t have a powerful voice, but each of the group’s albums center on a theme that allows him to write deeper lyrics than the average love-struck rocker (“Neon Bible” focuses on the life-changing effects of personal faith, for better or for worse). Butler’s could write the band’s next album about breakfast cereal and it would still seem philosophical.
That in itself isn’t enough to make music epic, per se. Butler had six other people in the band to help run a menagerie of instruments that make each track grandiose. Sometimes it’s in the form of orchestral arrangements, and sometimes individual instruments, such as the dark chords of a piano, are predominant (“Ocean of Noise”). Two factors are especially relevant to the grand nature however.
The first is the harmony section backing up Butler’s vocals. At the forefront of this is Régine Chassagne, Butler’s wife and multi-instrumentalist in the group. Nearly every track features her angelic vocal contributions, particularly opener “Black Mirror” and the title track.
The second is the pipe organ. It only makes a few appearances, but when it does, it sets the tone. “Intervention” opens with a blaring display of organ (also adding to the church-theme), making the entire song larger-than-life. The song “My Body Is A Cage” is one of the few tracks where less is more, but the organ is one of those few, and it makes a difference. I couldn’t find a reliable source telling me what member actually plays the instrument, but the band does tour with a small organ, so someone obviously does it.
Picking a favorite Arcade Fire album is tough. “The Suburbs” hadn’t been released when Moon wrote his book, but both that and “Neon Bible” are not only epic, but pretty great too.
INTERESTING FACT: The Foo Fighters have covered the song “Keep The Car Running,” and Dave Grohl reports that it is the first song he listens to every morning. (Although I put a different track below, this is my favorite track as well).