May 28, 2010

Arcade Fire Releases Two New Songs, Which Put Off Heat But Don't Simmer

I’ve been listening to the belches of thin air spewed forth regarding Arcade Fire’s third album for a while. So far as I could tell, all we knew about the album was that it was planned for release around the end of the summer, and that the band was working with Markus Dravs again. Now the details have dropped: The Suburbs, that’s the title, and it’s coming out August 3 in the U.S. I like the cover art. But more important than the artwork are the two fresh songs they’ve pressed on a 12-inch single, “The Suburbs” and “Month of May,” which you can listen to here.

I’m a strong supporter of the band at this point. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard their debut—album, that is; I’m not in any rush to get to the E.P.—but I think Neon Bible is a tremendous album, the kind of album Radiohead thinks they’re recording, noir-rock like the Doors advertised and sporadically delivered. Only Neon Bible is better than any album the Doors ever released. So far as my ears, heart, and mind can tell, it’s one of the best albums anyone’s released since the Y2K. I could devote a piece to Neon Bible, as my gushing suggests. That’s old news.

This new material is much more interesting. On the Needle Drop, where I found the songs streaming, there are three comments from users covering the whole spectrum of possible reactions: “It’s weird: I usually hate Arcade Fire, but these songs are alright;” “ ‘The Suburbs’ is … sleepy but not bad and not the best. ‘Month of May’ really surprised me and I love it,” and “This is VERY weak and lets HOPE that the rest of the album isn’t.”

The first comment accords with one of my observations, that the songs are much more listener-friendly, for those listeners frightened, repulsed, or just plain turned-off by the paralyzing fear and manic paranoia of Neon Bible. I’m with the second commenter. I don’t think “The Suburbs” is sleepy. There’s too much in Win Butler’s vocals. But nice as it is, and, as usual, as interesting as the lyrics are, especially the bit about why he wants a daughter but’ll settle for a son toward the end of the song, “Month of May” is the more immediately gripping. Its lyrics do seem uneven, but it’s the drive of the song that appeals to me, the chopping guitar, like an X record played at half-speed. “Month of May” feels thinner after repeated listens, whereas “The Suburbs” seems to add new layers of emotion and meaning the more I play it. I’m pleased with these new songs. I’m not riveted by either song, which may be a sign of things to come, or it may mean nothing at all. I’m intrigued, and I’m eagerly anticipating the new album. And that reaction is the exact purpose of a single. I guess we would call this a success for Arcade Fire, so far as I’m concerned.

I leapt at the chance to break my silence without organizing a full-fledged article, since I’ve only written one, which to the extent of my knowledge remains unread by anyone save myself, and that was more than a month ago. I’d planned to start my proposed “Calendar Girls” series, but a turbulent finish to the semester and the lame-duck that is MGMT’s Congratulations imploded that aspiration. Then my girlfriend was assailed by excruciating pain, today revealed to be a fractured rib, which canned our plans to attend the PiL concert in New York—and, in the process, cancelled my promised piece on PiL. There is more coming, I promise, readers or lack thereof be damned.

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