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Sunday, September 5, 2010

Arcade Fire: Arcade Fire


1) Old Flame; 2) I'm Sleeping In A Submarine; 3) No Cars Go; 4) The Woodland National Anthem; 5) My Heart Is An Apple; 6) Headlights Look Like Diamonds; 7) Vampire / Forest Fire.

There is very little on Arcade Fire's humbly self-titled EP debut from 2003 to suggest that, in less than a year from then, they would start topping critical lists and being regarded as the saviours of their generation. And yet, at the same time, there already is everything: Win Butler's paranoid, bullied-boy-takes-last-stand-in-the-corner vocals and Regine Chassagne's naughty-excited-girl-de­fying-prescriptions «singing»; multi-layered arrangements where each instrument plays some­thing tremendously simple, but like its player's life depended on it; and, of course, the overall starry-eyed idealism within which it is considered sacrilegious to borrow from one's ancestors in a post-modernistic manner (although it is permitted to maintain one's sense of humor).

The difference is that these seven tracks are very clearly tentative; the best way to ascertain this is to compare the original version of 'No Cars Go' — easily the most memorable track — with its masterful reworking on Neon Bible, where it is nevertheless only one of several highlights. The lo-fi production (everything was recorded in some cheap barn somewhere in Maine) is violently at odds with the band's ambitions, and does not allow the senses to be properly overwhelmed. God only knows how many of the other tracks could benefit this much from being re-recorded a few years later; my serious bet is on 'Headlights Look Like Diamonds', Chassagne's tour-de-force whose head-spinning harmony line deserves a whole lot more vibrations out of one's speakers.

On the other hand, several of the songs, sounding like un-fleshed and, possibly, un-fleshable de­mos, would hardly convince the hardened skeptic about the capacities of indie rock in any setting: 'The Woodland National Anthem' is more like 'The Ragged March Cat Anthem' with the approp­riate musical accompaniment from a band of drunken hobos, and the closing seven-minute num­ber works out the style, but not the essence of true anthems-to-come like 'Power Out' and 'Rebel­lion'. This is probably because most of the songs do not bother to find the proper underpinning musical hook, or do not take enough care with the musical buildup, or just do not hold that rhythm nearly as steadily as they would soon be able to.

In short, Arcade Fire is not so much a proper debut as a bit of a training camp, and, in retrospect, should not be anybody's first point of acquaintance with the band; once Butler and his friends get in the history books and stay there, everyone who cares about past sounds will want to visit this departure locus (it is still, after all, a matter of spending thirty minutes in a moderately pleasing way), yet it is not deserving of much on its own, even if 'Headlights Look Like Diamonds' threa­tens to become an unjustly overlooked power pop gem, and 'My Heart Is An Apple', perhaps, an equally unjustly forgotten intimate tearjerker.


  1. By the way, am I the only person who thought Bjork is guesting on "I'm Sleeping In A Submarine"?

  2. No, you're not.