Arcade Fire - The Suburbs/Month of May - Singles - Reviews - Soundblab

Arcade Fire - The Suburbs/Month of May

by Pete Sykes Rating:9.5 Release Date:2010-05-26

Arcade Fire, virtually silent since 2007's brilliant Neon Bible, have sneaked out a double-A sided 12" single on the sly. They'd previously announced that it would come out some time in June but, according to Pitchfork, a fan on Wednesday randomly found a copy in a Glasgow record store. Who needs iTunes or MySpace when you can do things in such a thrillingly old-fashioned and mysterious way? Of course, 24 hours later and the songs are all over the internet (you can listen here); the band thus ensures that one of the most eagerly-awaited releases of the year is greeted with an even greater buzz than it would have been with a conventional roll out.

And the songs? Why, they're magnificent, of course. What did you expect? 'The Suburbs' seems like the major work here, so let's start with that. It begins with an unexpected bounce, but what at first feels like a standard mid-tempo indie-rock tune has a lot going on under the surface. Win Butler's lyrics begin with a hint of the Springsteenian storytelling style he flirted with on Neon Bible - "Grab your mother's keys, we're leaving," he commands in the first verse - before evolving into something much darker. Soon, we learn that Butler is "fighting in a suburban war," but the suburbanites, perhaps drugged by television and capitalism, cannot grasp the urgency of the situation: "By the time the first bombs fell/ We were already bored."

By the second verse, Butler is resigned, as "All the houses they built in the 70s finally fall/ It meant nothing at all, nothing at all." Neon Bible was an angry record, full of despair at the state of the world; 'The Suburbs' is similarly apocalyptic, but less stark, more sarcastic. Musically, it's quite majestic, the aforementioned bounce gradually giving way to a creeping sense of dread, as new, unsettling elements are introduced throughout the song - a thudding piano on the first chorus, a beautifully subtle guitar figure on the second verse, goosebump-inducing strings on the second chorus and finally, the piece de resistance, a brilliant guitar riff, accentuated by a dischordant violin and Butler's wail of "We're still screaming..." And then it ends, and you're left breathless at Arcade Fire's ability to make something so terrifying and pessimistic so beautiful and complex.

'Month of May' is remarkable too, a thrillingly ersatz slice of garage-rock packed full of demented sloaganeering - and yet with a very dark undercurrent. "The city was safe from above/ And just when I knew what I wanted to say/ A violent wind pulled the wires away," Butler wails, again forseeing the annihilation of an unwitting world. Like the characters watching bombs fall in 'The Suburbs', the spectre of war is greeted with disconnection and boredom: "Some things are pure and some things are right/ But the kids are still standing with their arms folded tight." And again, what started out as musically light and throwaway is by the end throbbing with outright menace, as a shrieking, distorted guitar note takes over the song. It's not easy listening, but the urgency and power of these songs left Soundblab shaken, unsettled, and yet utterly exhilerated - a rare experience that very few bands in the world today can elicit. Arcade Fire's third album, when it emerges, should be remarkable, and keep your eyes peeled - it might already have been smuggled into a dark corner of your local record store.

Pete Sykes

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