Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A journey through the Canadian snow - Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire is a band led by husband and wife duo Win Butler and Régine Chassagne; they hail from Canada and they play music that drives along in the Canadian snow – music which shivers in a cold landscape where families fall apart, and where children die, and where love is found and lost, but which also finds warmth in memories and community.

If you just read the words of their album Funeral, you would think that this is all about mourning and grief, but when you listen to its music you realise that it is rather about acceptance and, ultimately, about moving on.

It is music that is always pulsating with a beat, as much from the keyboards as from the percussion, giving everything a sense of dappled light, and always driving things forward. It is a kind of gentle rock – gentle but strong, sure and persistent, sometimes reinforced by heavy 12 string electric guitar, sometimes by warm violins and cello, sometimes by cold harp or by the street sounds of an accordion.

Even though these songs are about loss and heartache, about dark nights and shadows, the music has an amazing way of feeling like home, built on the foundations of solid, secure harmonies, with bricks made out simple phrases that build and transform into incredibly strong walls of sound that surround you and, before you even realise they're doing it, give you shelter.

The blend of instruments throughout this album is really very original and unique – like a small chamber orchestra, playing with an unshaking precision, a real sense of conviction and, most of all, of community.

Sometimes tracks take sudden, dramatic shifts in tempo, like in “Crown of Love”, and “Wake Up”, which cranks up the excitement in the way that Rossini overtures are famous for doing.

Most of the songs are sung by Win Butler in a voice that, to me anyway, seems to ache with vulnerability and yet to be aflame with passion at the same time – it leaves you on the edge of your seat, and on the edge of tears, even while the music keeps your head marking time with that strapping, sturdy beat.

The last song, “In the backseat”, is sung with goose-bump inducing simplicity by Régine Chassagne – a song about sitting, unnoticed and undisturbed, in the back of a car, looking at the countryside. But then once again the music cranks up, explodes, and Régine’s voice seems to take on a Björk-like intensity as she sings “I’ve been learning to drive. My whole life, I’ve been learning”. The music swells and then eventually fades into the distance and you reaise, maybe with a tinge of regret, that it has moved on.

I really don’t think I have ever heard anything quite like this before, and I wouldn’t begin to guess where it fits in terms of genre or influences – but it’s an invigourating, life-affirming album of very original, colourful music that keeps you captivated from the beginning and leaves you trying to follow after it at the end.

Thank you Lucas for this really stunning recommendation!


  1. ... in which case, you may well enjoy another duo - the guitar and drum-based White Stripes. Try their album 'Elephant'(2003), especially 'Girl, you have no faith in medicine'.

    Then try Ash Grunwald's 'Fish out of water' CD (2008) - I like 'Working hard' and 'Redback' especially.

  2. Thanks for this, Patrick. I actually have "Elephant" and absolutely love it (yet to blog on it though). I don't have any Ash Grunwald - a deficit that clearly needs to be remedied ASAP!