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The Arcade Fire unleash electrifying debut

Matthew Solarski | Thursday, September 16, 2004

Jack Kerouac famously wrote, “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved … the ones that never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars …” Were Jack around today, he would probably have the words “The Arcade Fire” tattooed across his chest inside a big, red heart.In the live setting, The Arcade Fire celebrate their madness by painting blood on their faces, shouting in unison and turning anything in the vicinity of the stage into a percussion instrument. Now, with the release of their debut “Funeral,” the Montreal-based group have ossified their already-considerable status as one of the most compelling groups making and performing music today. The band behind “Funeral,” ironically centers on a wedding – that of husband and wife co-vocalists Win Butler and Regine Chassagne. Each also plays a slew of instruments including, but not limited to, guitar, piano, accordion, drums, recorder, synthesizer, xylophone and bass. Joining them are Win’s brother Will, Richard Reed Parry, and Timothy Kingsbury, who together play just about everything and seldom settle for a single instrument for more than two consecutive songs. Rounding out the ever-expanding collective, Montreal studio guru Howard Bilerman rocks the drum kit, looking very much like a librarian, while pixie Sarah Neufeld adds a pinch of gravitas to the songs with her pensive violin.A solemn affair this funeral is not: basslines thunder beneath pulsating, jangling guitars, organs and harps gallivant about dizzying chimes, strings rise and cascade while a maudlin accordion sobs. Win steps in and lends his sincere, engaging vocals to the mix, at times recalling Frank Black, at times Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock and most often sounding very much like himself. The record opens with “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).” The first of four “Neighborhood” movements, it tingles with a refreshing magic realism, as Win describes a surreal nocturnal journey with his neighbor and beloved. The second “Neighborhood,” “Laika,” also examines escape, as Win and Regine recount the exploits of a brother who “tore our images out of his pictures … scratched our names out of all his letters.” The accordion figures most sublimely into this number, which culminates in a line worthy of our man Jack, “When daddy comes home / you always start a fight / so the neighbors can dance / in the police disco lights.”As its centerpiece, “Funeral” boasts the exceedingly gorgeous “Wake Up,” an anthem to the despairing and disheartened. A rich, six-note guitar riff with grace note explodes into a chanted chorus featuring all band members, adorned in dashing harps and lush strings. The ebullient, supremely cathartic song finds Win and company at its end proclaiming, “With my lightnin’ bolts a glowin’ / I can see where I am goin’ / You better look out below!” Having resolved to dive headlong into whatever sabotages life puts before them, the Arcade Fire prance through two more stellar tracks before at last arriving at the eulogy-like closer “In the Backseat.” “I’ve been learning to drive all my life,” declares Regine. Fading as it does into a few scattered string plucks, the album ends just as it arrived: a most vivid and entrancing dream that one will never quite forget.In summation, marvelous lyrics, mesmerizing instrumentation, and a vitality and emotional immediacy found in precious few acts today make “Funeral” one of the year’s most outstanding releases.