Once a band reaches a certain level of fame, it is typically left with two options for its new music it can either replicate the formula that brought it the initial success or it can try to reinvent itself. Reflektor, Arcade Fires most recent release, falls into the latter category. This riskier approach can sometimes lead to musical disasters bands may accidently create turkeys that alienate their original fans and generate disappointing reviews from critics. Yet, when a band manages to move successfully in a new direction, it can create true magic. Reflektor is a prime example of just that.
Listening to Reflektor, it is clear why Arcade Fire chose to book recent shows using the name the Reflektors a new moniker based off the albums title. This seems to be an act of dissociative identity its as if the band is saying that its new music is so different, it may as well be by another band. This sentiment is perfectly captured in the beginning of the albums fifth song, Normal Person. Though the track sounds like an average rock n roll tune, the opening lines tell a different story: Do you like rock n roll music? / Cause Im not sure if I do.
These lyrics demonstrate how Arcade Fire has evolved from its initial influences and has begun to establish a new identity.
Reflektor is divided into two discs. The first is reminiscent of the old Arcade Fire sound, albeit with the occasional twist. The second sees the band sailing into uncharted territories, as it moves deeper into the realm of electronic music culminating in Supersymmetry, an 11-minute long electronic symphony that takes a page from Minimalist composers such as Phillip Glass.
Reflektor excels in taking elements from the bands repertoire and injecting these with a dose of Haitian and Caribbean sound. The Caribbean and electro-disco-glam music that pepper the album are not altogether surprising this has been a signature style of producer James Murphy for years. Murphys mark is all over the album, starting with the eponymous first track, Reflektor. This number oozes disco-glam and features a cameo by one of the gods of the genre, David Bowie. However, lurking in the background are steel-drum rhythms and other Haitian influences that grow more apparent as the album progresses. Flashbulb Eyes and Here Comes the Night Time the latter of which is one of the stronger tracks on the album both channel Caribbean sounds through the lens of typical Arcade Fire-esque head-bobbing anthems.
These types of tracks dominate the first disc of Reflektor. However, the second disc is an entirely different animal. Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) features an almost tribal style of drumming. Eventually, the bass and guitar heavily apparent at the start of the song are drowned out by more electronic elements. In the same experimental vain, Its Never Over (Oh Orpheus) features singer R?gine Chassagnes vocals more than any other song in the album. Dominated by a synth style, this number has the potential to get stuck in peoples heads for weeks on end. This particular song harkens back to Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) from Arcade Fires album The Suburbs (2010), with its infectious synth and beautiful vocal display.
These two songs besides just being stellar tracks express the albums overarching allusion: the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, who are also featured on the cover. On Reflektor the story of these two lovers is adapted, with much of the album dealing with the troubles of the modern age such as urban and digital ennui and the difficulty of finding love and maintaining relationships.
Reflektor is an album that definitely requires multiple listens. Although it is hard to capture all of its well-written lyrics on the first go, the music is captivating enough to make listeners play it again and again. To some, Reflektor may be a radical shift for Arcade Fire, but most will understand its importance toward its musical development. Arcade Fire has taken a step forward in its craft, and what a remarkable step it is.