Arcade Fire's 'Reflektor': What We Learned From An Early Listen

Arcade Fire

I'll admit, when I first watched Arcade Fire's performance on "Saturday Night Live" last weekend, I was a little concerned. As good as the songs were, something about the new theatrics and imagery -- Win's Nightwing eye makeup, the band's suits festooned with sequins and kooky, patchwork patterns, even the "k" in "Reflektor" -- felt like quirkiness for quirkiness' sake; as if after a critically acclaimed trilogy of albums, a studied, concerted effort had been made to "Get Weird."

Having endured the grab bag of ostentatious influences that were the last two Coldplay albums, the idea that everyone's favorite Canadian baroque pop collective was on a similar path worried me. But Tuesday night, after attending a fairly intimate early listening at Electric Lady Studios in New York's East Village, those concerns were largely put to bed. Even adjusting for the influence of white wine, pesto focaccia paninis and the ethereal magic of Sir Hendrix's old haunt, the new Arcade Fire album delivered. It's clear that the band hasn't just switched stylists -- it's thoroughly reinvented itself.

"Reflektor" leaps forth from the analog dreams of producer and LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy, who helped the band get in touch with their inner dance punk only glimpsed on previous Arcade Fire albums. It also invokes tropical, island rhythms gleaned from the band's time spent in Haiti over the past few years -- six Haitian percussionists lend a hand to floor-fillers like "Here Comes the Night Time" and "Flashbulb Eyes." Arcade Fire have always excelled at making music that soars, but this time they're going for something more visceral and groove-based.

For more of what we've learned about "Reflektor," Arcade Fire's boldest, most sonically adventurous album yet, read on.

1. It Doesn't Sound Like LCD Soundsystem
Though Murphy's influence is apparent, Arcade Fire haven't simply taken up the mantle left by his old band. "Reflektor," the first song released from the album, is probably the most indebted to the LCD ouvre. Elsewhere it veers from post-punk ("Joan of Arc," "You Already Know"), to ZZ Top guitar heroics ("It's Never Over (Oh Orpheus)"), to reggae block party ("Flashbulb Eyes").

2. It Travels Through Time
The sweeping, ornate indie pop of Arcade Fire's first three albums is by now emblematic of the mid-to-late 2000s, so on "Reflektor" the band goes further back in time, sampling sounds from the ‘70s, ‘80s and early ‘90s for a new trans-historic milieu. The second song on the album, "We Exist," riffs on the iconic bass line from "Billie Jean;" and the smutty stabs of synth on "Porno" conjure a stroll down a "Deep Throat" era red-light district.

3. The Old Arcade Fire Isn't Gone Completely
Even for all its genre hopping and time jumping, "Reflektor" still has a few moments that are vintage Arcade Fire. The sprawling epic "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)" builds to the rafters with a series of cathartic releases that rival anything on "Funeral" or "Neon Bible." And album closer "Supersymmetry" is a beautiful duet between Win and Régine that reaches its apex with the help of strings from old collaborators Owen Pallet and Sarah Neufeld. The band may be aiming to break new ground, but it hasn't completely forgotten its roots.

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