Archive | May, 2007

Suburban Alien

12 May





The Road to (Antichrist Televison Blues)

11 May

So, a few weeks ago (ATB) by The Arcade Fire, won the Neon Bible Survivor on fansite UKK. (basically a poll for the favourite song.)


Initially when I first heard it (at the time called Building Downtown) I was caught off guard by the rootsy, americana feel of the song. It was a live recording (below) from the first performance of any Neon Bible material. A short, but dramatic secret show in the basement of a Polish Catholic Church in Montreal’s Mile End. Sure it sounded like Springsteen, but it was so exciting, and different: clearly rooted in Americana/Country/Rock but so much more alive and mobile. The bluesy chord progression is anything but limiting, it’s a framework which is solid and sound, allowing the rest of the orchestration to just riot in a staggering, rolling, flickering burst of colour. It’s like the aural equivalent of watching a Zoetrope (flickbooks were included in the Deluxe Version of the CD Neon Bible Album). The chugging rhythm turning over a series of images in stop motion forward lurches. There’s the narrative as the coloured frames, but in between, in the gaps between the frames there’s a dark, sinister undertone. The father selfishly forcing his daughter to sacrifice their personal, private, childhood for fame, riches and stardom. A working class villain who pretends it’s all for his daughter own good.

The Arcade Fire- (ATB) : Live at St. Michael’s Church, Montreal

However, how did this “new” sound and direction happen? I’m not going to force out an answer, but there’s a clear series of events which surely had some influence on the song’s composition.

It starts with the band’s childhood. Win grew up listening to The Cure, Springsteen etc. Those influences were perhaps held back for Funeral, more fully exploited on Neon Bible, in songs such as Keep The Car Running and Windowsill.

The band returned and still return to these songs of Bowie, Springsteen, Talking Heads and so on, with covers which are regular appearances at live shows. Here’s a cover of Bob Springsteen’s State Trooper.

State Trooper

However the sounds of the 80s were first heard even earlier in the band’s life as it’s current line up , first with glimpses on the “unofficial” 2001 Demo EP, and later with Vampire/Forest Fire, the stunning closer to The Arcade Fire [EP] – Us Kids Know .

The song begins with a rootsy first person account of inter-familial difficulties, sung from the perspective of a narrator who appears to be connected indirectly. Like as in Funeral the family appears to be central…”Your brother…Your sister…Your father.” I always see the fire as those domestic troubles, which arise from an unnamed victims attempts to be artistic and creative, but squandered by an disrespecting, misunderstanding group of relatives,

“You wanna be set apart/ Burn all of your Art/Prepare the wasteful part….Your sister/ Pours the gasoline….I’ll fix your meals/ While your burns heal.”

And it is this battle between creative expression and familial interference that returns in (ATB).

And the song metamorphoses. There’s a brief hiatus and the entrance of what must be the most striking piano rift in modern music. Simple enough for even me to play on the piano, but haunting: fragile, sad yet so, so, so powerful. It’s heartbreaking and just builds. Suddenly the song is transformed into something so personal. The house has burnt down. It’s been destroyed. The very idea of “home” has been lost. It’s heartbreakingly passionate.


“Find a house you don’t have to rebuild/Stone by stone, brick by brick, nail by nail, my father never meant to leave me this… (meant to leave me this./


Let this love last/ I drive too fast./ Said i’d return if i’d ever cared/But there’s no interstate I find to take me there. (to take me there.)”


For the first time “my” is mentioned. The narrator has distanced himself from the domestic problems. Presenting them initially as the troubles of a close friend, but now it seems like all along he was singing about himself. Again the first person is used in (ATB), “Oh my little mockingbird sing…” And whilst lead man Win Butler grew up in a very creative household (musician grandparents and mother, pedal guitar inventing grandfather) he ran away from Texas to the North of the USA, a later even further still to the snowy haven of Montreal.

So it’s clear from this point, that the Arcade Fire were already experimenting with a rootsy sound, but making it something far more experimental and unique.

Vampire/Forest Fire (Live on KCRW)

V/FF was the closer to the EP, and likewise the closer to Funeral is a stepping stone towards (ATB). In The Backseat is seen by many as the band’s most beautiful song to date- delicate and fragile once again, yet developing into a heartwrenchingly beautiful lament. This song might seem like an odd inclusion, but this is sung by Regine, co-songwriter and also a lead vocalist. When the song explodes in a painful, sorrowful, grieving cry of mourning, Regine lets loose emotionally and vocally. It’s an unforgettable transcendent moment where the world seems to stop turning. This beautiful, fragile voice rising in volume and strength. Total catharsis. In (ATB) Win’s vocals break for Regine’s solo section. Here is a more powerful voice, the voice of that performing, unassuming child. It’s innocent, as if, unlike in In The Backseat, this girl has yet to realise the sadness the world can bring. But nonetheless it’s another release. The song breaks at Win’s first emotional climax, “how come nothing tastes good!” The father figure is unconsciously plagued by a subconscious realisation of his wrongdoing, and yet the daughter is oblivious. It’s this moment I find most sinister. The subconcious effort to stop the wrongdoing, but the inability for the conscious mind to realise this. In a phrase the album is given another layer of political messaging. Be it a father and his daughter, or a government and it’s people, there’s a failure for us to look inside ourselves instead of just looking straight at the reflection we see in the mirror- the direct, the obvious, the apparent,

“Wanna hold up a mirror to the world/ So that they can see themselves inside my little girl.”

In The Backseat- from The Arcade Fire’s debut LP, Funeral

I loved (ATB) ever since hearing Regine’s section on the teaser You Tube video. However, the were other Neon Bible songs I ranked higher. But recently I’ve fallen head over heals for the whole hugeness of the song. The sinister narrative, the connotations, the instrumentation the lyrics…

It all comes back to the Zoetrope image. I feel like as much as I try to embrace this song or love this song, there’s always something unknown lying in the darkness. Something that’s unreachable. Something that’s beautiful, but so very unsettling.

The sudden ending, and those silent seconds which follow.