Arcade Fire Supplement

additional notes on arcade fire.

Sarah Neufeld of Arcade Fire.

“Wild Fire in the ‘Burbs” article now online at First of the Month.

Here are a few additional thoughts that didn’t have a place in the article itself.

Where is the sex in Arcade Fire’s music?

The band’s sound is anthemic, rather than personal. The concerns expressed in the songs are social, not libidinous. This seems interesting considering that at the heart of the group is a married couple. Perhaps it is precisely because there is a married couple at the center. The songs are not about their relationship because that’s too close to see; instead, they seem to be about the world around their relationship, a larger sense of family, humanity, fellowship. Even when Win Butler sings about hiding a lover underneath the covers on “Rebellion (Lies),” he is addressing “people.” And the covers on that great song seem to be much more than just sheets and blankets on a bed; they become metaphors for social feelings of hope, of nothing short of revolution.

Leader of the pack

You can’t really dance to Arcade Fire, but you can march. While Will Butler frantically and joyously leaps and jumps around the stage, banging on a snare drum, and Régine Chassagne swirls and vogues, giving glimpses of a tremendous strength behind expressions of fragility, and Win Butler falls backward from his microphone as if the lyrics and the beat have blown him away, the best dancer in the group may be violinist Sarah Neufeld, who marches to the beat in such a way, mixing ecstasy and determination, that her moves seem to be a perfect physical encapsulation of Arcade Fire’s music. She lifts her legs and feet, one then the other, staring straight ahead, her eyes on some distant vanishing point where the violin part and the backing vocals collide with the meaning of the song. Here is a bit of sexiness to Arcade Fire, but it’s also more than sexy, or better said it is the culmination of sexy: it’s the individual moves of a call to collectivity, a collectivity in which the individual does not dissolve into some greater whole, but rather gathers steam.

Where is the race in Arcade Fire?

By which I mean where is the engagement with African-American music? It’s missing? Or is it? A song such as “My Body Is A Cage” borrows from a Staples Singers-like gospel sound, but this is more like black church sounds tunneled through U2’s Rattle and Hum. Is there a kind of absence here that needs more explanation? One thinks of the main competitor for Album of the Year at the 2011 Grammys, Eminem. Arcade Fire and Eminem offer two very different takes on whiteness and its relationship to blackness in America? To be clear, I’m not calling Arcade Fire or their music racist here, just wondering what it meant that Arcade Fire won out over Eminem in terms of the ever-present but often-shifting cultural meanings of race in the United States and the world.

Of Anthems

What I notice most about Arcade Fire are the group’s vocal hums and chants. These flicker triumphantly across the soundscape of songs (“Wake Up”; “Rebellion (Lies)”; “Intervention”; “Ready to Start”; “Empty Room”; “Rococo”) like banners in the wind, flags of a country we long to fight for, an invisible republic whose imagined borders come into view on some just-out-of-focus horizon. The band sings of this place. The audience sings it too. And in the collective singing, it feels like the rediscovery of a lost homeland. If you join in, a kind of nostalgia emerges—sweet, bitter, joyous, melancholic—for this place we never will, can never quite, will never again reach. And yet there it is, taking shape, full of lungs, in the ears, hearts beating, arms raised, legs moving, a social body, borne aloft on the air.

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