The Bubble Album Reviews No. 28

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

On Funeral Arcade Fire purported the celestial power of love and passion in defeating death: on Neon Bible they attacked the (supposed) mutual pretence of organised religion and consumerist society: on The Suburbs they eulogised their formative years, lavishing them with a triple coat of nostalgic whimsy. While incongruous at face value these three records share a collective soul; an incorruptible, transcendent, hopelessly naïve philanthropy, the kind only known to adolescents caught bewilderedly between the myopic bubble of tweenagehood and the greyness of life beyond the lunch-bell. Anyone who’s ever been gauche and awkward, rebellious and anarchistic, lustful and romantic, can sympathise sincerely with Arcade Fire. Reflektor succeeds because it continues the emotive restlessness of their first three albums while diversifying their meticulous arrangements and escalating their subject matter. Never have the duels between life and death, delusion and reality, art and artifice, sounded so goddamned groovy.

Reflektor’s pre-release marketing campaign mirrored that of Yeezus and Random Access Memories (the album announcement came via a tweet in reply to a random fan); drip-fed, equivocal intimations of numbers and words eventually converging on September 9th-the date its title track was released to reverential responses from AF disciples and critics, under the not-so-subtle pseudonym The Reflektors.

The album is ostensibly about the reproduction and reflection of art in the age of digitisation; films, photographs, paintings and songs are readily replicated, multiplied, tweaked and mutilated, but do these copies lose the value, the uniqueness, of the original in the process? Butler believes so; ‘our song escapes, on little silver discs/our love is plastic, we’ll break it to bits’. Virality is the curse of contemporary art. It’s equally a pejorative indictment of social media’s illusory disconnection, ‘we’re still connected, but are we even friends?’ In vilifying digital media as a vapid reality Butler implies another reflection, but that of existence rather than art. In ‘Here Comes The Night Time’ and ‘Afterlife’ he even compares a computerised reality to death. There is a subversive dread of an apocalypse of human connection, of corporeality. Reflection is a conceit, and will consume and destroy you.

The LP represents a brave stylistic step forward for Arcade Fire, an expansion (importantly not a rejection) of their Indie Rock roots, tossing in elements of Electronic, R&B and even Deep House, resulting in some sort of avant-garde Disco-Rock. It’s got James Murphy pouring out of its bongo samples; the crawling-to-cacophonic build-ups, driving synth lines and Indie-dipped techno-funk are vintage LCD Soundsystem. This is still totally an Arcade Fire machine though; the bouncing bass line of ‘Joan Of Arc’, the dynamic drumming of ‘Here Comes The Night Time’, and the disc-spanning dissonant harmonies of Butler and wife/muse Regine Chassagne attest to that. The magnificent ‘It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)’ is the song AF and LCD obsessives such as myself dreamed of, a gorgeous collision of Electronic sound and Rock sensibility. With the possible exception of ‘Afterlife’ (essentially Reflektor’s uplifting epic, its very own ‘Wake Up’, ‘No Cars Go’, ‘Sprawl II’) it’s my favourite song from the album.

Reflektor is a model of (Murphy-inspired) aesthetic perfection and songwriting consistency, suggesting that ultimately it’s a matter of individual taste where it lands itself on your favourite Arcade Fire album list. Personally I find its cosmic, uncompromising ambition awe-inspiring but lacking the angsty intimacy of Funeral or The Suburbs; objectively though, it’s very probably their most complete record yet.

By Kieran Devlin

Darkside – Psychic

Darkside is the latest musical offering by Nicolas Jaar, a producer best-known for the jazzy deep house of his 2011 album Space Is Only Noise. The Darkside project sees him teaming up with multi-instrumentalist Dave Harrington, the guitarist in his live band. There have already been a few releases under the Darkside moniker including a full remix of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories but Psychic is the first full album of original material the pair have released collaboratively.

The first track ‘Golden Arrow’ is a brooding eleven minute epic, beginning with droning synths and smatterings of static. While Nicolas Jaar’s music has always been on the experimental side of dance music, the music on Psychic takes this trend to a new level. It’s not until halfway through ‘Golden Arrow’ that anything resembling a four-to-the-floor beat drops, combining with a steadily propulsive guitar line and some unintelligible high vocals. The song has an understated energy and seems to creep up on you, with something like dance music eventually emerging through the haze. This is a common thing throughout the album, the music is almost ambient at times but just as you think it’s not going anywhere a melody suddenly breaks through. On ‘Heart’, the third track, Harrington’s guitar work combines with some plaintive multi-tracked vocals from Jaar to deliver something which in different hands could have easily turned into a pop song.

There are some really cool sounds on the album: the beat on ‘The Only Shrine I’ve Seen’ seems to use what sounds like an army of wind chimes over a simple kick and hand clap beat which makes for a really interesting base to build on. The album rewards repeated listens, especially with headphones, each time I listen I notice more interesting details. It’s also notable how slow the beats are in general, continuing Jaar’s trend of slowing House style music right down to a comparative crawl. This gives the music quite a languid, funky feeling which really suits Harrington’s guitar style.

The album is a very absorbing listen, it has all the ebb and flow of good dance music combined with great guitar work and some really good tunes. However, I sometimes felt that even with all the interesting sounds that were being created, the trick of adding some improvisatory guitar to a standard kind of Nicolas Jaar beat is overused. However Darkside have manage to achieve a rare feat with Psychic, combining the accessible with the experimental, producing an engrossing album which seems to drift tantalisingly in and out of focus.

By Michael Vasmer

London Grammar – If You Wait

London Grammar, consisting of Hannah Reid, Dot Major and Dan Rothman, three Nottingham University Graduates, are a band on many people’s lips. Prior to their debut album release, they gained attention from the electronic tinted sultry vocals and hushed guitar of singles such as ‘Metal and Dust’, ‘Wasting my Young Years’ and ‘Strong’. These have been aired regularly on Radio 1, as well as making appearances on both Radio 2 and 6 Music, highlighting the cross-genre appeal they have gained. They were in the Radio 1 live lounge as part of the ‘Even More Music Month’ in September, and within a few days featured on Alice Levine’s ‘Behind the Song’.

It is not surprising, then, that the band has been dubbed by many ‘the next big thing’. This hype has been galvanised by the odd whisperings of Mercury Prize nominations (recently proved false), comparisons to the likes of the XX and Florence Welch, and YouTube views just shy of two million for songs ‘Strong’ and ‘Wasting my Young Years’. If You Wait, then, has been released into a sea of scrutiny from fans and critics alike.

Each of the three aforementioned singles appear on the album, along with a host of others, all in the same vein, but still varied enough to hold interest. In ‘Hey Now’, the opening track, Reid’s powerful voice remains subdued and mellow, and it isn’t until near the middle that we begin to get a sense of the strength behind it, the strength that has inspired so many to liken her to Florence. ‘You know it’s like lightening’ she sings. Perhaps lightening is a good metaphor for Reid, as she certainly surprises you at times, leaping out on occasion from the otherwise restrained manner that makes up much of the album.

One or two tracks evoke intriguing and bizarre sounds used by the likes of Alt-J or James Blake. The tracks ‘Stay Awake’, ‘Sights’ and ‘If You Wait’, for example, all squeeze in electronic-esque murmurs. Particularly, the dreamy guitar of ‘Stay Awake’ mirrors somewhat that of ‘Taro’, the final track of Alt-J’s Mercury prize winning Album An Awesome Wave. Although at times their similarities give their music a comparable vibe, distinctive vocals certainly set them apart. London Grammar manage to seamlessly combine the electronic with laid back strumming, helping to separate them from other contemporary indie groups who rely wholly on the strains of predictable guitar chords and drum beats.

Occasionally we are woken up by a more prominent and lively drum beat. Certainly ‘Stay Awake’ jolts the listener after track one. ‘Flickers’, the penultimate track, seems to be the climax of the album, as the band let go entirely, especially compared to other tracks. Tribal style drumming and chanting are overlaid by Reid’s ethereal cry, signalling a trance-like peak in the music.

After this the album’s namesake, ‘If You Wait’, leaves us with the lyrics ‘I trust in time that we will meet again’, which I hope we do. With their understated style and indie cool, London Grammar manage, in their debut album, to engage the listener and leave them with beats and lyrics engrained in their heads. They have given themselves a style which, when compared to other bands, I believe is utterly distinctive. They have combined various mediums and injected them with a unique voice, setting their music aside from its competition. I think that London Grammar have given us a memorable first instalment and I look forward to seeing how they develop.

By Julia Churchill-Angus

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