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on 12 May 2005
In what is an increasingly generic indie scene, the Arcade Fire are like a breath of fresh air. Hailing from Montreal, Canada this five-piece (plus numerous other musicians) have also managed to release one of the debuts of the year.
With four of the first five tracks titled Neighborhood, the songs tell intimate stories of towns trapped in snowstorms, and the loss of relatives and friends. Yet despite the strong themes of death and loss, the romantic nature of the songs means that the resounding outlook is one of hope rather than despair.
This is evidenced in the opening song, Neighborhood 1. "I'll dig a tunnel from my window to yours" sings Win Butler defiantly, accompanied by a striding rhythm and a lush, orchestral sound. It's the wealth of musicians which consistently lifts this album above the current crop of indie bands.
But despite the hymnal nature of the music, the Arcade Fire aren't afraid to crank the guitars up when necessary. Neighborhood 4 is suitably frantic, complete with crashing drums, and the chugging guitars of Wake Up are most effective. Yet it's the surprising twists in the songs which make this album so compelling. Just try not to smile when the elegant Crown of Love finishes with a dramatic disco beat.
Should Win Butler's yelping become too much, then Regine Chassagne's vocals should provide the perfect remedy. Sounding like a more palatable Bjork, she only appears as lead vocalist on Haiti and In The Backseat, but as a result, these tracks are made all the more special. On the latter, it's hard not to be moved when she proclaims "Alice died in the night" amidst a rousing chorus.
Many reviews have tagged the Arcade Fire as "a cross between the Pixies and the Polyphonic Spree". Certainly Butler's most crazed moments are reminiscent of Black Francis (and the lilting guitars of Une annee sans lumiere have a tinge of Bossanova-era Pixies about them), and the band seem to have a similar cultish aura about them as the Spree (although thankfully they're not in anyway gimmicky). And despite the band's otherworldly take on indie, the springy guitar and bass lines of Rebellion come across like an orchestral Interpol (no bad thing).
Yet this is an album and band which should be judged entirely on its own merits, of which there are many. With each listen, the music becomes bolder, more stirring, and offers something new. The Arcade Fire have already won over a lot of plaudits, hopefully they'll win over a lot more.
Key moments: Neighborhood 1 (Tunnels), Neighborhood 3 (Power Out), Crown Of Love, In The Backseat
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on 2 April 2006
I don't usually write album reviews but felt compelled to add to the paltry couple of reviews here to urge others to just go out and buy or download this wonderful album. As an earlier reviewer has noted, this album (like all masterpieces) is a grower and the more you listen to it the greater you realise what an exceptional piece of work this is. I can't think of a better debut album in recent years and it puts into perspective the hype surrounding say, Franz Ferdinand and The Arctic Monkeys. Whilst I like both these bands and enjoy listening to the CDs, the ARCADE FIRE's Funeral is in another catgeory entirely and is destined to become a true classic of contemporary indie rock. Every single track is a winner, from the sublime melancholic romanticism of CROWN OF LOVE and IN THE BACKSEAT to the mesmerising, uplifting rock-outs of the already classic REBELLION (LIES) and NEIGHBOURHOOD No.2, to the lilting, glorious rock-funk of the hypnotic HAITI.

I remember first being aware of this band when seeing them perform live on Jools Holland's Later show and being blown away by their sensational performance of REBELLION, a song that never fails to move me, with it's thunderous bassline, heartfelt lyrics, subtle string and percussion backing and the way it rises slowly to a crescendo of sound.

2005 was a pretty good year, with excellent albums including GORILLAZ, ANTHONY AND THE JOHNSONS, THE WHITE STRIPES and KATE BUSH, but for me, THE ARCADE FIRE trumps the lot, with its originality and sheer verve and invention. IF you haven't heard this album, give it a try - I am confident you will love it and will await the next release from this fascinating and enigmatic band with keen interest.
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on 15 April 2005
You know that feeling when you hear a new band? One that inspires you to the core, one that makes you want to buy every piece of crappy merchandise you can lay your hands on, and read every article that the irrelevant one paged website based in Iceland has to offer? No? Clearly you haven't heard this album.
Funeral isn't just the debut album of what might be Canada's greatest export, it is the album that every aspiring musician wants to make. Sad, funny, irreverent, difficult, melancoly, joyful, epic and so very beautiful. Every finger click has been assessed, every squeak of the instruments (that I have absolutely no clue of how to name) is precision placed, but don't let that suggest that this album lacks soul, for this is soul. Laid on a table and beaten black and blue.
There are hightlights of course in the Bloc Party-esque beats of Rebellion and the Delgados hints of In the backseat, but like all masterpieces, this must be consumed as a whole, like a packet of Jaffa cakes, silently and alone.
I dare you to listen to this and in the dying few seconds not be spellbound and frantically reaching for your remote control to listen again. Just to check that you weren't dreaming. Because that was the best album you ever heard. Stop pinching yourself!
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on 5 August 2005
I love music. I love new music, but new music I love is hard to find. Antony and the Johnsons 'I Am a Bird Now' and Kanye West's 'College Dropout' have been the only new-ish releases to blow my mind (I'm looking forward to Kanye's new one). Finding something musically beautiful, conceptually whole and emotionally mature, music to fulfil my every need, is a rare thing indeed. Then one day came Arcade Fire...
'Funeral' is a deeply-charged, whirling, emotional explosion. There are moments of gut wrenching sadness and boundless joy. Ghostly backing, sparkling piano, slicing guitars, roar tribal disco-style drumming and the desperate plea of the vocals all make up these compelling, vivid, fantastical snapshots.
I feel sure it's an album you will keep coming back to in years to come.
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on 26 September 2005
You know this is a great band when their first album is titlked Funeral, a symbol of the end. This is one of the greatest albums I have ever heard. Each song is beautiful in its own unique way and after hearing it 2 or 3 times you might even come to believe these songs have been hidding in your head your whole ife until you pressed play on your Cd player. Sadly for the Arcade Fire this is goping to be hard to top as it is near perfect, the card sleave it comes in is perticularly impressive and fun. The insert booklet is a mock of a funeral directory with all the song words and credits listed as if they were hymes. I can't sum up this album no matter how much I feel I should, all i can say is I have had it less than 2 days and it's all I've listerned to since I did. If you heard the singles Power Out or Rebelion you will be excitied to hear they are not the best tracks here by a long way. Get it now!
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VINE VOICEon 1 February 2006
The reviews I find most useful tell me "if you like such and such a band, or this other album, you'll probably enjoy this". With Arcade Fire's "Funeral", finding a comparison is a uniquely challenging task. You really have to spread the net wide to find influences or similarities in contemproary music.
In places, with their layered, complex, slightly ambient sound, Arcade Fire sound a bit like Sonic Youth's "Hoarfrost" or "Diamond Sea". But the addition of strings, multiple percussionists and the occasional accordian, the comparison is not perfect. Similarly, if you liked some of the Icelandic band The Sugarcubes' earlier work, then you'll probably like "Funeral". But that's not to say that they're the *same*.
In places, the intentionally formless and flowing nature of their songs akes them sound a little like the Fall, but scored for performance by strings, acoustic guitars, multiple voices and the like.
The closest comparison is with the song Hoppípolla by another bunch of Icelanders, Sigur Rós, currently getting a lot of MTV2 play (the ones with the video of old folks playing at pirates and jumping in puddles): gentle, melodic and tuneful.
You can tell that it's a struggle. Arcade Fire are - and this phrase is overused, I know - quite unlike anyone else in the mainstream music scene right now.
The tracks exude joy (surprisingly for a record largely inspired by loss). You will know "Wake Up" when you hear it - beautiful, uplifting and accessible, unsurprisingly the trendier end of the
ad agency has lept on it, using it for a BBC season trailer.
"In The Backseat" is another cracking track: you think you have a grip on it - a strong feeling of the Cocteau Twins from their Blue Bell Knoll period, although with an occasional guitar line closer to the late 80's or early-90's post-Manchester indie scene of someone like Ride - and then suddenly you have tympanies, a Beatles-esque cello line and some melodic violin scoring. It's like a brilliantly accomplished band started jamming with the string section of a chamber orchestra after the recording session. It finally dies away with pizzicato strings, fading into the silence.
"Rebellion" has been overshadowed by the radio-friendly, hook-rich Wake Up for a long time, but may perhaps prove to be an even better song, with a driving, repetitive bass, piano and drum combination driving the song along: a whirling, spinning, racing joy of a song.
This slow burner of an album has been around since 2004 in the USA, and has gradually built up a following through internet word-of-mouth and, more recently, MTV2 first playlisting it then making it their album of the year. I've never given five stars in a review before, but this one deserves it!
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on 8 November 2005
Picked up this album last week after some positive reviews from some of the guys on Amazon, and my word, it's fantastic. It's like nothing I've heard before, yet it feels so familiar. Without wishing to get all pretentious It's like a stroll through the Canadian wilderness in mid-winter, with the bright sun reflecting off the icy landscape being both warming and blinding at the same time. You can't help listening to this album without ending up contented, it's original, it's beautiful, one of the finest albums I've heard in a long while.
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on 23 January 2005
After a slightly disappointing 2004 in musical terms, the Arcade Fire have arrived and produced a brilliant album.
Why is it so excellent? Well...originality is one reason. There is a lot going on and the album includes some very weird sounds, created by heaven knows which kind of instruments. It's also jampacked with great songs and changes of pace. The use of different vocalists works very well and there is a lot of emotion in there.
If you need a reference point, I guess that some of the more innovative American music of recent years including the Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev is as good a comparison as any - but there are echoes of the Pixies too - a more lush version.
All in all, terrific stuff.
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on 13 September 2005
Quite simply the best UK album release of 2005. It might well have been available overseas since about 2004...yeah, we had to wait for it, but the wait was more than worth it, and in years to come, I think that this will be the LP that 2005's best remembered for.
Very much in the same polyphonic league as bands such as The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, and of course, The Polyphonic Spree, but with all the mysticism and sun worship replaced with funereal tragedy. It's truly amazing that such a maudlin concept hides behind one of the most uplifting collections of songs you're ever likely to hear. Every song has something going for it, from the raw surging explosion of energy that is Power Out to the gentle whimsy of Tahiti. However, the track that stands out by a vertical mile is the triumphant Rebellion (lies). A thrilling thumping bass drum gives way to an optimistic piano and bass riff...and the lyrics, relating to the crop of lies told when someone's dying (such as "you're going to be ok") AND the state of the nation ("ev'ry time you close your eyes, lies! lies!") are delivered with such passion that you, the humble listener, are drawn in, sharing the emotion. Once the sudden key change occurs, you'll be hooked.
Then there's the explosive Wake Up, a song that's so uplifting that U2 used it as their introduction music on their Vertigo tour. It's the song that has the most in common with the band's polyphonic sound alikes, with choral walls of sound that go "Woah!" and a jazzy "Look out below!" breakdown.
This year's Ok Computer. The bar has been raised, and so too have your spirits.
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on 23 March 2006
This is definitely the finest album I have bought this year. It's certainly not the easiest to get into; the melodies are hidden and the vocals are quite abstract... but persevere and you'll be rewarded with one of the greatest explorations of teenage angst and mourning ever committed to CD.
Written soon after several band members experienced the death of of their grand-parents, most of the songs deal with the consequences of such a loss. The biggest theme is the destruction of childhood through the realisation of death. The lyrics harbour a real resentment towards parents for wrapping their children in a blanket of lies to protect them from the harsh realities of life. In 'Neighborhood 3 (Power Cut)' the singer cries "Light a candle for the kids, Jesus Christ don't keep it hid." This theme returns in the awesome stand-out track "Rebellion (Lies)" when the singer recounts his parents attempts to end his mourning and get him out of bed: "But we know it's just a lie, scare your son scare your daughter." This song is utterly sleep disturbing and sends shivers down my spine whenever those beautiful string arrangements kick in.
I'm amazed that quite a few fellow reviewers dislike the end track, but it's utterly essential to the overall theme of the album. It uses the metaphor of a child in the back-seat of a car to describe how it feels to loose a loved one. In the back-seat the singer describes a time of no responsibility where she doesn't have to drive or even speak. As her family die around her, she is thrust into the front seat... a position of worry and uncertainty, while another generation takes her place behind her. Its a heartbreaking track, delivered with genuine emotion.
All in all this a brilliant album, with very brave and experimental production for a debut band. At times the male singer sounds off-mike as if he is screaming his lyrics from the other side of the studio, at other times songs wander off on complete tangents, barely resembling how they started off. It's a credit to The Arcade Fire that they manage to pull these ideas off... roll on album number two!
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