NEW YORK — Few bands have straddled the divide between indie and mainstream quite like Arcade Fire — eclectic in tastes and cerebral in views, yet enjoying rock-star recognition in the industry.
Releasing its first album in four years, the Montreal-based group — which has always cast its net wide on instrumentation — steps away from the rugged guitar that characterized its hits and heads to the dance floor, infusing its songs with disco.
Everything Now, which came out on Friday, nonetheless keeps the favorite lyrical themes of Arcade Fire — introspective takes on modern consumer culture and self-image.
The result is an album that is both dark and full of catchy hooks — vital to a band that has become legendary for its live performances. Yet Everything Now is also less consistent than Arcade Fire’s more conceptual works such as The Suburbs — which in 2011 won the Grammy for Album of the Year in a startling first for indie rock.
Everything Now, the group’s fifth studio album, starts off with a title track that reconfirms Arcade Fire’s skill at weaving together diverse influences into a unique but accessible pop song.
Built around a flute sample by the late Cameroonian artist Francis Bebey, the title track is driven by a choral refrain by the New Orleans-based Harmonistic Praise Crusade, as a funky bass and melancholic piano melody work in counter-balance.
Mourning what has passed in the age of universal Internet and 24-hour media consumption, frontman Win Butler sings: “Every inch of space in your head is filled with the things that you read / I guess you’ve got everything now.”
“And every film that you’ve ever seen / Fills the spaces up in your dreams,” he sings.
Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter serves as a producer, bringing a retro electro sound that evokes the robot-clad French electronic duo on “Signs of Life,” a biting rap about empty hedonism, and the darkly abstract “Electric Blue.”
DANCE MUSIC BECOMES DARK AND GRAND
Arcade Fire, masters since the band’s inception at crafting a grandiosity around the sound, brings a disconcerting sense of uplift to “Creature Comfort,” a dance track with an industrial beat about self-hatred and suicide.
“God, make me famous / If you can’t, just make it painless,” Butler sings.
Yet uncharacteristically for Arcade Fire, the album can also become predictable, with “Chemistry,” “Good God Damn,” and “Put Your Money On Me” built over minimalist dance rhythms that stay confined. On “Peter Pan,” the band famed for its sophisticated lyricism takes up a surprisingly obvious metaphor for youth.
Everything Now marks Arcade Fire’s first album to be fully released by a major label, Columbia, after the band built its career on Merge, the celebrated North Carolina-based indie imprint led by members of Superchunk.
Arcade Fire, which remains loved for its energetic live shows, ahead of the album put on an elaborate set at Barcelona’s Primavera Sound festival and on Thursday last week played an intimate show to preview the new material at an ornate hall in Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn show, livestreamed on Apple Music, caused an online stir when tickets recommended a dress code described awkwardly (and redundantly) as “hip and trendy.”
Was the guidance a sign that the rockers have finally become part of a ham-handed mainstream? Or maybe it was an elaborate — and very indie — joke. Arcade Fire denied the fashion advice, quipping on social media that the band members themselves wouldn’t be admitted if the code were enforced. — AFP