Arcade Fire: "Neon Bible"
Producer: The Arcade Fire
Release Date: March 6

This Montreal band came out of nowhere with its gripping 2004 debut, "Funeral," quickly rising to the vanguard of the indie-rock universe. The slavishly anticipated follow-up is even more ambitious if not as immediately affecting; strings, pipe organ, synthesizers, backing vocals and horns color every inch of empty space, and the musical intensity rarely lets up, even on slower numbers like the title song and "Ocean of Noise." Win Butler's narrators are often down but never out; like the characters in the best Springsteen songs, they know transcending the ordinary is a do-or-die proposition. That feeling is most palpable on breathless rockers like "No Cars Go" and "Keep the Car Running," which are as strong as anything on the debut. Bombast occasionally gets the better of the songwriting, but that's a small complaint on an album that gets nearly everything just right. --Jonathan Cohen