I’ll first say I haven’t written a music review/critique in a long time. At one point in time I was convinced I could make a career of borrowing from Lester Bangs. Eventually, however, reality set in and I realized I don’t have anything close to Bangs’s tolerance for amphetamines, bourbon, or poverty. Nonetheless I recently was lucky enough to pick up a copy of Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible and it has shaken me so deeply I am giddily dancing atop a bail of hay on their bandwagon.
A few years ago I was pretty ensconced in the North American post-rock sound. Pretty much everything I bought either came from Canada’s Constellation label or Chicago’s Thrill Jockey. Both labels specialized for a while in grandiose swelling crescendos and a collective gazing-at-shoes due to incessant droning and concentration on abstractly (intertextual, maybe?) inserted field recordings.
I loved and still love the theme and variation model of composition, building intensity with incessant layering of percussive pulses. This style was perfected by bands like Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think, and Trans Am. Yet I sadly longed for a band who could add a note of accessibility to this genre.
And then there was Arcade Fire.
I initially shied away from AF’s media buzz due mainly to their consistent association with fellow Montrealers, Broken Social Scene. While I think BSS has an interesting ethos and correspondingly big approach to sound, the romantic in me wanted a crooner to step up to the mic and usher in a new musical paradigm.
After seeing some YouTube videos, I picked up Neon Bible. Now I can’t put it down. I have honestly listened to the whole album (cover to cover) three times a day for the last 2 weeks.
The production is fantastic. Somehow all 7 members seem to get ample say in the mix, while vocalist Win Butler chews the mesh off his microphone out front. Each track swells with intensity, encouraging listeners to stand up and lean into the wind until it abruptly stops and they fall flat on their faces.
The band relies on acoustic instrumentation for the most part, illustrating the potency of their collective fingers and forearms with each track’s pounding bridge. Yet, on the rare occasions when an electric guitar floats to the top, it does so with tingling, morbid effervescence as in the chorus of track 6, Ocean of Noise. This repeated guitar wail, has me repeatedly welling up as the violin helps to hold it up.
As yet, I haven’t quite cracked the egg that is the title track. On an album of repetitive swellings, the irony of a title cut being not so is perfectly fitting. I can’t wait to taste that yolk.