Here Comes the Night Time by Arcade Fire
There’s a price to pay for your next album after being anointed “The Best Band in the World.” Your next move is going to be analyzed, critiqued, dissected, autopsied, chopped up, and even butchered within an inch of it’s life. Some critics are going to get their rocks off tearing it apart. Some will faithfully trumpet your work as that of genius not of this world. And some will listen to it and try to decide if they like it.
I hope this review comes from WD firmly planted in the third camp. Because I’ve read reviews of Reflektor that run the gamut from hyper-intellectual Penthouse Forum to evil intentioned and personally vindictive scab-picking. Neither are fully correct, but both can ring true if read the right way. So here’s my take.
The last couple months I’ve started reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest again for officially the third time. The first time was a false start, I tapped out after about 500 pages when I realized that this was not like any other book I’d ever tried to complete. and it simply wore me out. Something about the end-notes and the non-sequiturs and the lapses into what I can only call brilliant intellectual absurdity defeated me in my first attempt. I did finally pick it up and finish it from start to finish, two or three years after the false start. And I realized that if it wasn’t my favorite book I’ve ever read, then it was at least the best book I’ve ever read.
For some reason about two months ago, in the middle of an alcohol induced rebound quasi-sonabulistic night, I decided to download it to my iPhone. I can’t tell you how great of an idea this was. Without going too far into the heart of the book. Let’s just say that it’s replete with difficult even made-up vocabulary, that demand ready access to a dictionary if certain passages are even to be understood. And it has over 250 end-notes within the text. End-notes as in not footnotes, end-notes as in when you come to one, you have to flip to the end of the book to see what is being referenced, as opposed to scanning down to the bottom of the page.
The book itself is over 1,000 pages and weighs at least 4 1/2 lbs. As such, to get the full experience reading it you are constantly moving bookmarks around and flipping back and forth and grabbing dictionaries and grabbing different dictionaries when the first one didn’t have the word that you didn’t know. All and all it made for an exhausting experience just to read one goddamn book. I’m not trying to take away from the brilliance of it (because I think Wallace intended this), but it is a brilliance that you have to dedicate yourself to unearth.
However, all that dedication was lessened by reading it on my iPhone. Suddenly Infinite Jest, the great American novel, the master work of David Foster Wallace, who before he committed suicide, won the only award in America that they dole out solely for being a genius, has opened up and actually become easy(er) to read. Still cumbersome but not as cumbersome. And it’s still exhaustively brilliant.
Exhaustively brilliant were the adverb and adjective that landed in my brain the first time I listened to the stream of Refektor. I’m standing by them.
Back to that best band in the world thing. There should be little doubt. Reflektor is the album the best artists in the world make at the height of their powers when they’ve lost all need for further validation and just wanna fuck around and make the album that they wanna make (N.B. e.g. Pop, No Code, Kid-A, Yeezus).
A lot of Reflektor is as good as they’ve ever done. But some… I hesitate to call it filler because AF doesn’t do filler. So what I’m left with is it being shit that I don’t understand in the grand scheme of the album. What I can’t decide is if that’s my shortcoming or Arcade Fire’s clumsy album construction.
Like most double albums, Reflektor would benefit from being made one. In fact I would’ve been sated by the first disc alone (N.B. on which the jangily brilliant Here Comes the Night may be the best song). And like most great music, the first seven songs on Reflektor scratch an itch I didn’t realize I had. It just feels good to hear.
And Arcade Fire continue to be one of the few bands making music right now that inspire in me the need to research references in their songs or the themes of their albums. So in the last four days I’ve read my share on the cover models, Orpheus and Eurydice, the creepily intoxicating movie Black Orpheus, Kierkegaard, and Haitian rara music (N.B. Like the way a certain band from Seattle led me to read Howard Zinn and Daniel Quinn.).
Perhaps it’s that that makes Arcade Fire great in WD’s universe of greatness. Does it do anything to diminish my perception of Arcade Fire standing as the best band in the world? No. In fact I think Reflektor is a great album. But I think it’s a great album without a great song on it. That’s kinda hard to do. In fact, I can’t really think of another. But it is good to see what this band with all of their power and all of their toys (David Bowie and James Murhy/LCD Soundsystem) and absolutely zero inhibitions or reasons to fuck around can do.
Is it bloated? A little bit. And unfortunately that bloat so far has taken away from one of Arcade Fire’s great skills in making albums. That is their ability to center an album around a coherent theme that resonates with me at least as deep as the music itself.
But there are tracks on Reflektor with little turns of melody so pure or dance beats so unexpected and affecting that they make you fall in love with music all over again. But it is exhausting. The songs are long. The references are vague. The music can hide behind a healthy shot of Arcade Fire’s patented density-for-density’- sake. We get it, you’re smarter than us. You know more about music and culture and philosophy, and you’ve spent a long time learning about them. And it’s amazing that you can make absolutely incredible music and incorporate all of those facets of your existence into it. But… just ease up a little. Please. Really have fun instead of trying to convince us that you are. It might be wearing me out.
I should have let this digest another week.
I feel my own incoherence. I’m flailing in a pond of it.
Listen to the best band in the world. Tell me.