Say it with Sound: Arcade Fire continue to go against the grain with Everything Now
Everything Now, in good time. I always think of that line from the Wolf Parade song—I’m not in love with the modern world—when I shuffle back, to the magnetic force of Arcade Fire’s music.
My appreciation for Arcade Fire’s newest record began with something Win Butler told Zane Lowe in August, during a lengthy interview that aired a few days after the release of Everything Now. Referring to a review of the album, Butler noted, amidst unstifled chuckles, that the writer in question had seen fit to disparage Butler’s (GASP) rapping of the days of the week on the third track, Signs of Life.
It wasn’t so much the inaccuracy of the sentiment that bothered Butler; in fact, he seemed fascinated that this point was essentially copied and pasted throughout the music review blogosphere. And this is what Butler was getting at: when it comes to new music, like any art release, be it film or whatever, the general public has been conditioned to latch onto hot takes, rather than allowing for the requisite time and space one needs to fully embrace something as full and nuanced as a record.
Everything Now became tainted, quite quickly. Worst album in their output. They’re just taking the piss, and taking us for a ride. But that’s the beauty of the blogosphere: ten years from now, the same sites that canned an album can, and will, release a re-review of Everything Now. Maybe this time they’ll note that they were wrong to judge it so quickly. And we’ll continue to click click-y. Algorithms win in the end.
So it was with all this in mind that I conditioned myself to approach Everything Now with more patience. I’ll readily admit that I couldn’t get into it, on the first couple of listens. But instead of stopping entirely, I made a pact to put it on once a week. And slowly, it began to take.
And this is where I grew most fascinated with another point Butler made in that Zane Lowe interview. One day, there will be kids sifting through stacks of records. The noise that surrounded the album’s release will have faded from memory. Was my own approach impacted by what I’d heard and read before listening? Undoubtedly so. These kids in the future will put on that record and just listen. It’ll be so much better than what we do, now.
This technology-facilitated culture we’re currently in won’t last forever. Nothing does. Butler and the band are wise enough to understand this. So they continue to fight against the way instantaneous gratification—click on a song within seconds, flip past if you don’t like the first ten seconds—has fractured our ability to process art. They released many of the songs on Everything Now as singles, weeks ahead of the album’s release date, so that listeners could begin to chew through the concepts before they were inundated with the official response.
On March 15 they will release a video, Money + Love, ostensibly dealing with many of the themes presented on the record. The paralysis that ensues from l’embarras du choix. Why release this short film now, months after the album’s release? Why indeed. The band understands that understanding doesn’t come all at once; lessons are revealed through repeated listens, through attending the concert and hearing the music live. You learn that little bit more with each exposure.
It’s why the album grows on you like few in recent memory. If there is an arc to it, it tails off from its initial ebullience, with the conclusion to Electric Blue, whose music video shows the end of the parade. How delicate, the sense of an ending. Here Comes the Night Time.
I’ve often wondered why Arcade Fire have attained near-mythic status among serious music fans. What is it about the live performances that strike such a resounding chord? The records that afford such a level of intimacy? There is the elemental affect of music, and the primal resonance with us. But perhaps more importantly, their collective nature, like the best musical outputs, are a staunch middle-finger to the contemporary, tech-driven individualization of the western masses. Something special always comes from a collective output.
This is why I love that line from Afterlife, on Reflektor. After all the hangers’ on are done hangin’ on; then there’s the line from Put Your Money on Me, on the newest record, tethered to the same ideological iron: Silicon Valley’s melted back into silicon; we’ll find a way to survive.
Butler is passionate about records, and the world that they can create for the listener. He’d like to work with companies like Apple to create album art for digital purchases on iTunes. To add a human touch to the point + click mentality. But as he points out in the video below, they don’t give a shit about that.
That pains him. Butler has noted that one of his fondest memories growing up was heading out from school on a road trip, one of The Cure’s new albums on the stereo. How that kind of experience stops time, and allows you to enter into a previously-unthought-of proximity to the sound. Maybe you hear a song you know will become a favorite, and you grasp for the cassette or album case to find the song, follow along to the lyrics, maybe read some liner notes. Immersion.
I’ve noticed how with each successive listen of Everything Now, whether it be blasting on the stereo after a really bad Thursday, or in the gym, bouncing along to the beat with my basketball, or walking home with headphones in the evening quiet, I notice something new. The album begins to inform my existence, and that’s the beauty of great art. I no longer listen to these songs interspersed on a playlist. I put on the record, and listen to them whole.