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LITERATURE

 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Arcade Fire
Neon Bible
Merge

Rating: 9.2/10 ?


March 6, 2007
There's a place where the information highway called the Internet merges with the freeway called Indie Rock. The junction is filled with billboards promising next-big-things and wayside acts that didn't fulfill their hype. Even in this transitory space, we still seek staying power, artists who can build a dynasty that survives the blur. Canada's Arcade Fire garnered amazingly uniform and deserved praise for their 2004 debut, Funeral. They backed up those accolades with an engaging backstory, frenetic live shows, dazzling musicianship, and stamps of approval from Bowie and Byrne. Word raced through cyberspace, culminating in jamming with U2, zero to Bono in a mere year. Throughout this viral groundswell the group kept a fairly low profile, with a coolness reflective of their wintry Montreal base. They laid low for the better part of 2006 to record their follow-up; mystique and expectations grew.

Neon Bible has arrived, and in a word: Hallelujah! Literally, the album is awash in church organ, sweeping choruses sung by actual choirs, ambitious orchestral arrangements, and solemn notions of religion and politics. It sounds like it was recorded in a massive cathedral, though it was actually put to tape in a small church near their hometown that the band converted to a studio. The reverberating production is big, with mixing and mastering on the low end of the sound spectrum. By comparison, the band's debut feels like treble clef chamber music. Moreover, Funeral was essentially a thematically connected suite, each song seamlessly bleeding into the next. Neon Bible is an ambitious stab at a grand Symphony, not entirely cohesive, but a very compelling listen.

The album is mainly linked lyrically, not so much musically, and song structure is rather homogenous. Across the album, however, there is abundant diversity and genre hopping, shored up by a guest list that includes horns courtesy of Calexico, Hadjii Bakara from Wolf Parade, and a military choir from Budapest. "Black Mirror," which sonically reflects its name, is a curious opener but sets the stage appropriately: Neon Bible may appear dark, but ultimately it's a study of contrasts. The song grudgingly moves forward, as if carrying the weight of the world, before rising into their trademark triumph of strings and vocals. Next up is the melodically opposite "Keep the Car Running," with which one can readily dance to the crashing hi-hats. Song sequence continually throws the listener off balance as the subtle and somber "Neon Bible" follows. Frontman Win Butler brings it down numerous notches, barely accompanied by sparse drums, bass, cello and the sounds of flickering neon tubes. "Intervention," the first proper single, pulls out all the stops as pipe organ coexists with xylophone and acoustic guitar. It has a huge sound, and an even larger message that indicts the hypocrisy of religion, power and war: "I can taste your fear/ It's gonna lift you up and take you out of here/ And the bone shall never heal/ I care not if you kneel."

"Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" is the most intriguing song, but also a misstep of sorts. It starts out as a perfect vehicle for Regine Chassagne, doing her best Sugarcube-coated pop, before an abrupt u-turn halfway through when Butler crashes the party. I suppose that's the bad vibration part, but I'd much rather have heard the good ones continue. "Ocean of Noise" gets things back on track, opening with a haunting beauty reminiscent of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game." It builds slowly to a gorgeous coda that blends in distant horns with Calexico's Mariachi vibe, a marvelous juxtaposition. "The Well and the Lighthouse" sounds like vintage Talking Heads, as it beats its way into an ending that David Byrne could have sung once in a lifetime ago. Speaking of bygone decades, "(Antichrist Television Blues)" sounds like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah covering New Order, and the result is a blast of fresh air. "Windowsill" essentially picks apart everything currently wrong with America and the West, pining for times to be different. "No Cars Go" is the most musically uplifting song on the album, Regine and Win singing heartily together, horns, strings, choruses and accordion in full regalia. The album ends on an interesting note, "My Body is a Cage," that finds Butler crooning blues to a simple organ and rhythm backdrop. If it had stayed that way it may have been the perfect ending, but alas it blows up into a gospel tinged ballad. It sums up the sole shortcoming of Neon Bible: excess. The album could have taken a cue from the band's live performances, which are more stripped down, but expose their eccentric beating heart.

On Funeral, Arcade Fire fabricated an individual musical style steeped in deep imagination; it was triumphant yet humble, universal yet personal. Neon Bible is a fork onto another road, one that has been traveled by the likes of Bruce Springsteen. If Funeral was their Born to Run, this is their Darkness on the Edge of Town. The escapism of youth has matured to cynicism, with shades of optimism. To cite a passage from the Bible, "No Cars Go" [5.43 Verse 5]: "Between the click of the light/ and the start of a dream."

One of the enduring qualities of music is that no matter how big the message, the medium remains simple. Dylan is a wordsmith, Bruce an everyman with a Fender, The Clash were four Brits playing punk. Great musicians recognize that the transcendent nature of art lies in writing music that people want to listen to. Arcade Fire are a rag-tag band that seem to implicitly realize this, as they remain peculiar without being pretentious. Neon Bible may be a bold departure from the beloved Funeral, but the divergence is as inspired as the music itself.

Reviewed by Ari Shapiro
A staff writer for LAS, Ari Shapiro mixes up pretty unique smoothies at XOOM in hot Tucson.

See other reviews by Ari Shapiro

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