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Again, it was a drastic shift from the marquee indie-rock bands of the first half of the decade where detachment was a mark of aptitude (See: The Strokes, Interpol, The Libertines) and the highly stylized dance-punk albums released in recent years (Franz Ferdinand, The Hives, The Futureheads, Hot Hot Heat, etc.). There is nothing ironic about Arcade Fire. Musically, they were the antithesis of both, incorporating an old-world romanticism into huge, stirring arrangements. There is something stylish about them, but not at all in the same way as a band like the Strokes, who with skinny jeans and awesomely messy hair, were careful for it to look like they didn’t give a fuck. Instead, Butler and co. were careful to make sure consumers knew they very much gave a fuck about the product they were putting out. Those Amish-Victorian suits and dresses they wore—they had feathers and curlicues painted on them by the artist who designed Funeral’s album cover. Just one facet of a meticulously crafted package. Everything from the elaborate design of their web site, to what music they played while sound checking their instruments (French love songs, natch), to their liner notes (a faux funeral program), connected to form a complete aesthetic. Looking back, this seems quaint. MP3s don't come with liner notes. Who visits a band’s web site when they could go to a MySpace page? Arcade Fire was one of the last bands who took full advantage of this pre-torrent opportunity.
Yet despite the grandeur, the profound themes, the songs sung in French, and the Victorian-era motif running throughout — in short, they took themselves pretty seriously — Funeral lacks smoldering pretension. Granted, Butler doesn’t necessarily sound warm as his voice flounders between desperate yelps and wallows, but his tone, matched with the lushness of everything that’s happening around him, is welcoming. And in those purposefully sack-like suits of theirs, they looked neither slick nor fashionable (or too far "out there" to be part of then largely marginalized Joanna/Devendra/masked Animal Collective clan). Julian Casablancas could’ve been a model; Richard Lee Parry looked like Napoleon Dynamite. On their tour for Funeral, they wore motorcycle helmets so that when they banged drumsticks on their heads, it wouldn’t hurt. Their stage looked like a windblown curiosity shop—accordions, xylophones, recorders, wicker deer wound with white Christmas lights strewn across—the seven of them stomping about, screaming into megaphones, seemingly unconcerned with anything other than those songs bursting to get out.
After this, less and less bands sought to sound like the Strokes. For any baroque-leaning rock band, being compared to Arcade Fire has become the ultimate compliment. For better or worse, the album marked not only a shift in what was then considered the typical indie-rock sound but in what an indie-rock band could represent. The last five years have been a race to see who will fill their shoes as the go-to example of a non-mainstream act rallying the masses. Funeral is a reminder that music—indie music, no less—could give people hope amidst the most dismal of circumstances. Now here we are on the brink of a new decade, with the commitment to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, the death of healthcare reform, and the promise of environmental catastrophe all looming large. You should go home tonight and listen to Funeral.
Haha.. we were kidding about all those other ones. This is obviously, objectively, the best record
ever of the decade.
Dec 23, 2009
Breakup records should not be this good.
Dec 23, 2009
After five years and three albums spent building something, Wilco decided to tear it down and start fresh. The music industry did the same thing. But it didn't exactly have a choice.
Dec 22, 2009
With the music industry in a perpetual downward spiral for much of the decade, it became difficult to blame bands for licensing their songs to corporations. When the money paid for records as brilliant as this one, it was impossible.
Dec 18, 2009
Once upon a time, the person we now know as the single most irritating figure in all of popular music was the most impressive artist the game had ever seen. It was fun while it lasted.
Dec 17, 2009
It was the most talked-about record of 2006, but when no one could quite make sense of it, they stopped trying. Doesn't make it less brilliant, but more.
Dec 16, 2009