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‘Funeral’ 10 years later: ‘Laika’

| Friday, September 19, 2014

[Editors note: To celebrate the 10-year anniversary of Arcade Fire’s debut album, “Funeral,” Scene is publishing 10 stories from 10 writers covering the 10 tracks on the album. You can read all of the “Funeral” articles here.]

When Arcade Fire won Album of the Year for their third album, “The Suburbs,” at the 2011 Grammy Awards, the media seemed to lose their minds. No one, it seemed, recognized the Canadian indie-rock band, and I was in shock. How could E News call the win “surprising” when Arcade Fire obviously deserved the award?

I had discovered Arcade Fire a few years before when I was 14, right before their sophomore album “Neon Bible”  came out. Immediately, I fell in love and began listening on repeat to the band’s debut album on the CD I had burned with our PC. While all of their work since has been highly acclaimed by critics, “Funeral” will always hold a special place in my heart. Even after 10 years (or eight for me, personally), the sound of the album — with its crescendos and sheer grandiosity — still holds up.

The second track of “Funeral,” “Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” takes on a more frantic, hectic pace than most of the album’s other tracks. It begins with a garage-rock drum beat and then, unexpectedly, an accordion accompanies the guitar to create the backdrop for a story about the narrator’s brother who leaves the town and never comes back alive.

The title, of course, references the Soviet dog Laika, which became the first living creature to orbit the earth but did not make it back alive. With its childlike lyrics (referencing vampires and the narrator’s “daddy” by turns), it still somehow feels like both the narrator’s brother and Laika escaped more so than was forced to leave.

The song and album are inherently tied up with the time during which I was introduced to them. I was in middle school, going through puberty, and finally able to listen to music in a way that was self-aware and critical. I can’t listen to “Funeral” without remembering the Strokes’ “Is this It,” the Killers’ “Hot Fuss” or the White Stripe’s entire discography.

For the first time, I could understand metaphors and themes. For the first time, I was experiencing teenage angst and needed a musical outlet to help me process those emotions.

In a way, I think Arcade Fire’s debut album is like that for everyone. It’s inherently nostalgic, even if you picked it up for the first time today. It’s both sentimental and full of angst, childlike and very mature.

“Funeral” sounds like lying on your bed watching the ceiling fan spin. The themes of realizing your mortality for the first time, losing your naiveté and feeling stifled by your hometown are all wrapped up in the idea of coming of age in the suburbs. And something in the beat of the music feels just like the satisfying ache of nostalgia.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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