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Arcade Fire "The Suburbs" - Retrospective Review


It's incredibly rare when a band releases two near-perfect albums and even more rare in the indie realm. Bands that come to mind among those select few in the world of indie are Pixies with Doolittle and Surfer Rosa, Pavement with Slanted & Enchanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and MAYBE you could make a case for The Smiths with their self-titled debut and The Queen is Dead. In that exclusive space though, you would certainly find Arcade Fire with The Suburbs and Funeral (and even Neon Bible comes pretty damn close). After hours and hours of listening and thinking long and hard, we ranked The Suburbs as the tenth best indie rock album of all time, followed closely behind with Funeral at number at 21 and Neon Bible a bit farther down at 52. Now hang tight Arcade Fire fans, we know we are NOT in the majority by putting The Suburbs atop Funeral, but for now, we are just going to focus on the greatness and importance of The Suburbs, instead of comparing the two stellar records, as myself along with almost every other music journalist with a beating heart holds both of those records in VERY high regard. With that being said though, we at Melophobe, although we have a serious soft spot for the band, still hold a great deal amount of objectivity towards Arcade Fire, as we were by no means in love with the most release, WE, although it certainly had its moments.

Telling nostalgia filled tales of youthfulness that come with growing up in the suburbs, Arcade Fire expertly mixed 70's inspired art-rock, with the sounds of chamber-pop tied together neatly in guitar-forward bow on their third release. The band left listeners with the finest indie rock album of 2010 and by our metrics, the finest indie rock record released since. It's pretty hard to highlight the stellar tracks on The Suburbs with nearly every song telling its own unique and fascinating tale, backed up with Broken Social Scene-like instrumentation. The vast array of sounds apart from your standard guitar, synth, bass and drum make-up include saxophone, French horn, auxiliary percussion, plenty of pre-recorded sound effects and an orchestral string arrangement made up of ten musicians. The talent and grace of the ensemble is heard perhaps no better than on Half Light I, before the song seamlessly transitions into Half Light II. Win Butlers vocals sit perfectly atop a plethora of pleasant sound on this masterful symphonic expression of rock.

The record really does have so much to offer for listeners of all styles of music, including those more in-line with your more traditional indie rock style with tracks like City with No Children, Month of May and Ready to Start. Your more standard, guitar forward indie rock outfit is displayed just as effectively as the 70's inspired symphonic rock, making up the inner workings of the record as a whole. Even on the more straight forward tracks though, the quality of the songwriting and orchestration of the music behind the vocals is still stunning. Tracks like these are easy songs to get into and come back to again and again. Month of May, with its up-tempo, driving drum beat, side by side with the equally percussive guitar groove and punchy vocals make this track so easy to head bang to and hypnotizing to see live.

Although the record itself is more energetic than not, the album-titled opening track has a graceful sway to it. That same musical motif comes back again and again throughout the 63-minute record on Wasted Hours, Deep Blue and of course the reprise at the end. The bringing of the energy up, back down and up again is a technique that can disengage listeners at times, but not in this case. The dynamic contrast of loud and soft, slow and fast, minimalist to full-fledged walls of sound add immensely to the musicality, uncompromising nature and the wholesomeness of the album.

As their third album and as a band who had already experienced a large amount of praise and success, it would have been very easy for Arcade Fire to take a different direction and chase a more commercial-forward and less organic sound, but they thankfully chose not to. Their creative freedom and ear for perfection on their terms left listeners with some of the best songs Arcade Fire has ever recorded, paired with many that were among their most musically intricate. The praise of this album has been echoed for 13 years now and will continue to come as its greatness continues reveal itself with time. We are getting to the point now where albums like this are going to begin to be held in regard the same way some of the pioneering indie rock records are regarded and praised. In terms of accessibility, quality of production, level of musicianship and wholesomeness, it's pretty hard to top The Suburbs. If it's been a while since you have heard the album in its entirety, it might be time to give it another listen.


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