Album Review: Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor”

Arcade Fire has never been challenged to sound vital. Their bread and butter has always been expansive, heart-on-your-sleeve indie anthems, but on “Reflektor,” they channel their bombast into a far more refined sound. Their exceptional ability to craft a melody is still on display, but these songs traffic less in huge choruses and more so in subtle hooks surrounded with precise instrumentation and elegant atmospherics. The end result is a fully immersive album that demands your attention to every bar as much as every chorus.

The opener, “Reflektor,” never really comes to a head, but enjoyably skips along to its disco-influenced bass line and guitar and horn accents. “Here Comes The Night Time” is a mid-tempo track that utilizes layers of sound to crescendo to its wild conclusion, a minute of full-on carnival romp, that’s easily the most fun moment on the record. Then there’s “Joan of Arc,” a track as catchy as anything the band has recorded, that is more centered on a toe-tapping bass groove than an anthemic chorus. Still, make no mistake about it, Arcade Fire is not trying to shirk their status as an arena-headliner. The only time “Reflektor” slaps you across the face is on “Normal Person,” a quirky rocker that sounds like it could have been recorded by Radiohead when they still liked guitar rock. It’s a needed change of pace and a definite highlight of the record.

Disc two lets the proceedings breathe a little bit, a much-needed reprieve from the intensity of the first disc. Give a lot of credit to producer James Murphy, formerly of LCD Soundsystem, whose influence comes most to the forefront on the second half of the record. It’s a natural combination, where Murphy’s keen attention to detail and ability to formulate a solid groove give these songs both exquisite structure and texture. If you didn’t know better, you might think “Porno” was an LCD Soundsystem track being fronted by Win Butler, but it shows what a powerful combination Butler’s haunting vocals can be with Murphy’s brooding synths. “Afterlife” is also propelled by pulsating synths, but somehow manages to sound the most indebted to the band’s previous sound.

Few albums are worthy of a 50-plus minute run time, let alone 70-plus, but “Reflektor” not only fails to overstay its welcome but leaves you wanting more. Its balanced tempo, varied sonic palette and abundance of interesting hooks fail to tire you out. Where our friend Justin Timberlake could have cut most tracks on “The 20/20 Experience” in half, these tunes utilize their length to fully submerse you in every beat.

It’s well past the point that liking Arcade Fire is ever going to be hip, but there’s nothing wrong with appreciating an artist who’s achieved a wide audience but continues to push the envelope. There are always going to be bands playing arenas and, while I lament the death of traditional arena rock, it’s far better to have these “big” bands making interesting records than playing it safe and rehashing prior sounds. Like other massively hyped 2013 albums “Yeezus” and “Random Access Memories,” “Reflektor” projects to be an album that people keep coming back to well after the buzz has died down.

Pete’s Prognosis: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Contact Pete Koehler at [email protected].