It doesn’t matter how good the new Arcade Fire record “Reflektor” is really. After three extremely solid albums, the band is as distinguished as it will ever be, and rightly so. Its first record, “Funeral,” is a classic, on par with Neutral Milk Hotel’s second album. The band’s second and third releases were hardly less spectacular. One also shouldn’t forget that this Montreal troupe beat out Lady Gaga and Katy Perry and took indie rock to the finish line when it won the Album of the Year Grammy for 2010’s “The Suburbs.” (“What is an Arcade Fire?” America roared in response.)
All things considered, Arcade Fire today is still just as industrious, and a listen to “Reflektor” is as rewarding of an experience as the three releases prior. The record proves that Arcade Fire is as diverse and as versatile as an R. Kelly festival performance, which jumps sporadically from song to song, blasting away bits of hits and memorable hooks spanning his career. “Reflektor” is as varied; its essence becomes driving in spurts, and heavy dance elements interweave it all. Its tonality mixes post-punk’s syncopation and legacy with the ambition of Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories.”
“Reflektor” is the catharsis of a trip to Haiti, the home country of frontman Win Butler’s wife and Arcade Fire co-founder Régine Chassagne. The country’s cultural and musical influence — perhaps best “reflekted” in “Here Comes The Night Time” — proliferates over the record’s near 80-minute length. It is definitively a dance tune, with a light-hearted piano chime to connect the song together (which proves to be a motif of sorts throughout the record).
The inflection of dynamic rhythms to create dance masterpieces is ubiquitous. As such, it is felicitous that James Murphy, the man who formerly fronted dance-punk act LCD Soundsystem, was one of those behind “Reflektor’s” production. His keenness for a dance hook showcased in his career was a welcomed influence here, particularly in the album’s colossal title track. This piece is followed by “We Exist,” which has a more forceful, jangly guitar than its predecessor, but is backed with a propulsive bass line. The subdued “Porno” observes dense synthesizer hooks and steel drum with syncopated snapping, making for a drearier groove.
Conversely, “Normal Person” engages the rockist id. The ambient sound of concert-goers blends into bluesy lines with Butler singing in a seemingly caged manner, only to burst out into a chorus that is nuanced by a grating-enough-to-be-compelling guitar riff that would make the likes of “Icky Thump”-era Jack White nod. “Joan Of Arc” pummels during certain time signature shifts, aspiring to be a vigorous tune.
This record’s sole hindrance unassociated with folk nostalgia of earlier Arcade Fire is its length. Nine of “Reflektor’s” 13 songs surpass the five-minute mark when the majority of them could be expressed in a smaller time frame. It is only the song “Reflektor” that seems worthy of its length, continually spiraling into new ideas while remaining upbeat and thus rapturous to maintain intrigue. Otherwise, finality can be sensed in much of the songs around their halfway point, but choose to devolve into sonic run-on.
Arcade Fire’s appeal can be tied to its musical cinematics, which is an ever-present element within the band’s catalog. “Afterlife,” arriving right before the album’s closer, is an awe-inspiring, resonant tune. With its placement in the album’s sequence, it shows a knack for strong endings. All of its timbres invoke the songs that closed out prior albums: it has the drive of “Rebellion (Lies),” surrounded with an immense atmosphere that recalls “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains).” As such, this consistent element illustrates a band that nurtures its attributes while keeping its mind open. It’s working.