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Reflektors in a Random Jukebox: It’s Arcade Fire ft. David Bowie

A band that seems to grow in stature with each passing year, Arcade Fire’s next studio set is, unsurprisingly, on many people’s wants lists of anticipated 2017 music releases. According to the grapevine, news is coming through that that the Canadian indie merchants have not only finished recording the album but they’re planning an epic two-year slog of a tour to support it. 

As a killing-a-little-time side project, first up on January 27 is a double-bubble release of The Reflektor Tapes/Live At Earls Court, which includes footage from their 2014 Reflektor tour as well as a documentary film about that LP’s recording.

The first clip, of the band performing Reflektor’s title track, was posted a few weeks ago, and it’s well worth watching here. The song itself is one of the best things committed to hard drive by the celebrated avant garde combo.

Released as a single and trailer for the album in September 2013, the track blends the subtle pulsing electronics first heard on The Suburbs’ 2012 epic Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) overlayed with the band’s trademark brand of emotional art rock fizzing with post-punk guitars and Talking Heads-style tribal rhythms.

Meanwhile, regular collaborator Owen Pallett (Franz Ferdinand, Pet Shop Boys) provides a low-key string arrangement while Win Butler and Régine Chassagne sing incisively of modern technology, romance, and alienation. 

Not surprisingly, it’s fantastically massive in a live context. But if that wasn’t enough, the studio version features a powerful vocal cameo from David Bowie, marking the last time the Thin White Dame would guest on someone else’s output. 

Produced with LCD Soundsystem mainman James Murphy, it’s a monster of a track that almost seems like too much on paper, but the busy melange succeeds wonderfully. Almost too wonderfully, in fact; much of the rest of the Reflektor record was never quite able to get out from under its shadow.

Coming off three album’s worth of massive critical acclaim and an Album Of The Year Grammy, the Ontario outfit was surfing a wave of hype, making Reflektor one 2013’s most anticipated releases. But like many, the LP ultimately left me a little conflicted. 

On the one hand, in the grand old unedited tradition of The Beatles’ White Album and Prince’s Sign “O” The Times, it’s a wee bit too long and self-indulgent; there’s no reason it had to be a double album. But then on repeated listens it becomes clear that Reflektor also contains some of Arcade Fire’s most exhilarating material to date.

Sadly, it’s almost become a cliché to say this, but it’s so refreshing and bracing to have a band that finally says something of depth in their music. Do the Arcade Fire sometimes become too ambitious and overreach themselves? Do they sometimes attempt to cram too much into their songs? Do they sometimes come off less as musicians, and more like wild-eyed prophets? Well, the answer is unequivocally yes. But is that a bad thing?

Not a jot.

And I am unanimous in that.

Steve Pafford

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