More so than any of their past releases, Reflektor feels like an exploration of personal tastes and influences as the band toys with the likes of dance-rock, synth-pop, Haitian carnival music and reggae/dub. They manage to bring it all together relatively successfully, but the complexity of the musical interactions does inevitably show. There are more than enough magnificently crafted songs on the album to make it another great Arcade Fire record, but the placings of the songs sometimes feels a little clumsy and scattered. It takes nothing away from the moments of dazzling vibrancy and musical excellence, but the constantly shifting styles just restrict the flow of the album a little, especially when compared to Funeral and The Suburbs. Although the scattering of styles is a daring intentional path for a band that has so far relied on epic musical narratives, I do think they’ve proven themselves in the triumphant richness, turbulent beauty and admirable diversity of some of the tracks. Just because I personally feel like it doesn’t mould together as neatly as I would’ve hoped doesn’t mean that you won’t.
The album gets off to a promising start with title track “Reflektor”. I instantly recognised the bounding percussion-anchored groove-synth that James Murphy (who helped produce the album) is lauded for. The track escalates in rhythm and almost reaches anthemic levels in a chorus that sees Chassagne and Butler passionately share the vocal line: “I thought I found a way to enter, it was just a reflector”. The next track “We Exist” sustains the hurdling rhythm and dancey glitz of “Reflektor” with its continually grooving sexy bass-line. As a huge fan of Arcade Fire’s pulsing disco-dance-synth venture “Sprawl II” on their previous album The Suburbs, at this stage of my first listen of Reflektor, I thought (and hoped) that the band might have completely draped this new album’s sound in the rhythmic-dance style that had previously and initially worked so well. Unfortunately this sound is not as persistent throughout the album as I would’ve liked, but that’s not to say I was at all disappointed with the more familiar Arcade Fire epic-art-indie-rock that rules in tracks like “Afterlife”, “You Already Know” and “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)”.
This is the most abstract piece of art that Arcade Fire have produced thus far, and some of the highlights come when the band incorporate genres and styles that we wouldn’t necessarily instantly associate them with.“Flashbulb Eyes” is a compelling but somewhat moody reggae-rock track dense with plunging electronic bursts, sulky guitar licks and other echoing instrumentation and vocals. The moody vibes are reflected in hugely animated full-on rock-song “Normal Person”. This song’s steady Clash-esque piano brushing rhythm repeatedly explodes into heavy blows of distortion, Win’s weighty vocals and guitar-solo dramatics. With “Normal Person”, Arcade Fire prove they can still be a rock band.
“Porno” is perhaps the song on the album most obviously influenced by James Murphy. Although the slinky synthetic beat and throbbing electronic dabs make for a nice, chilled attractive sound, some of the vocals and lyrics on this one seem just a little uninspired and lazy. “Here Comes The Night Time”, which is probably my favourite song on the album, switches between a high-tempo carnival jubilancy and a breezy Caribbean beachy dub beat. I really love the charmingly unsteady chiming piano licks, which work really well with the accompanying muddled plod of the fuzzy bass lines. This track owes a lot to Talking Heads for it’s infectiously cheerful vibe.
Reflektor on the whole is extremely imaginative, artistically dense, and has enough great memorable songs…but, for me, it doesn’t quite match up to their previous three records.
There are too many occasions when, just as you expect a song to reach its peak, it slightly awkwardly fizzles onwards into a prolonged chorus or an extra verse without really adding anything new or particularly compelling. Some songs that could be brilliant ramble and lose some of their initial impact, which is especially a shame because the formula for musical majesty IS so nearly tangible throughout. Admittedly though, some of the long-windedness is undoubtedly a result of their bold dive into an abyss of styles previously untouched by them before, and this is something that shouldn’t really be too heavily criticised.
There are moments of gold on this record that would shine in any album, but when you compare it to the solid 24-carrot we’ve come to expect from Arcade Fire, you might be left a little (JUST A LITTLE) disappointed