By 2005, I was firmly entrenched in the indie music internet subculture. I was checking music review sites like Pitchfork on a daily basis and eagerly previewing new albums from buzz bands. I was also regularly patrolling my local Cheapo Records for used copies of albums so I wouldn’t break the bank to get my fix.
As I was reading through Pitchfork’s annual year end list of 2004, I found that I had not yet listened to the album they ranked as the best release of 2004: Funeral by Arcade Fire. One gripe that I had and have about Pitchfork is their propensity to rate debut albums extremely high just because they are new and fresh-sounding. The bands often turn out to be flashes in the pan whose sophomore releases reveal that they are indeed still amateurs. I figured this was probably the case with Arcade Fire, an upstart band from the oh-so-trendy Canadian large-group rock scenes that happened to get lots of blog coverage that year. When I found their album on sale at Cheapo, I decided to take a chance on it.
Funeral turned out to be a fantastic album. Arcade Fire boasts 7-ish members and utilizes a myriad of unique instrumentation to pull off their dense songs. This album was recorded as a sort of reaction to the deaths of a few people close to members of the band. The songs were primarily recorded over the course of only about a week. Taken together, the album is a tour de force of dramatic and cataclysmic songs that soar and crash over and over again. It has a triumphant feel to it even as the lyrics often sound mournful of losses sustained.
My personal favorite moment of this album has to be the song “Wake Up”. I love the opening guitar chords that lead into a harp run and a huge vocal ensemble. From there the song drops into the verse, but maintains the march before climbing back up the mountain to the soaring choir. It’s an amazingly empowering song and one that I specially chose to have played as the church was being dismissed following our wedding.
At the time of it’s release, I was fairly confident that this band would not be flash in the pan and I was correct; Arcade Fire’s second album proved to be every bit as good as it’s first. In the era of hyperbole and instant history, good bands earn favor by being consistent in their craft and not just by having a popular debut. Pitchfork got this album’s ranking right, but that doesn’t happen as often as they’d like to think. There is no substitute for hearing and evaluating an album yourself on it’s own merit. In the case of Funeral, I find it’s one of those rare albums that gets better each time I listen to it. In other words, unlike most “Pitchfork Approved” albums, this one will have a long shelf life.