Review: Arcade Fire releases beautifully flawed and dynamic album ‘Reflektor’

Alexander McCall

The classic myth about Orpheus concerns his attempt to lead his wife Eurydice from the underworld under oath that he won’t look back at her until they both reach the surface. Just as Orpheus makes it out, he turns around, breaking his oath and sending his wife to the underworld forever.

It’s an incredibly tragic story, but its poignancy could easily be exploited for seemingly pretentious, insincere ends.

That doesn’t seem to be the case with Arcade Fire. The scrappy, indie ensemble turned breakout rock stars have just released the baffling, epic double album “Reflektor,” which references Orpheus’ story multiple times.

Coming off the heels of their Grammy-winning album “The Suburbs,” the band decided to bring their newly extended, dubby Haitian grooves into the studio with LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy as producer.

The result is a sprawling, two-part dance-rock opus that sounds like a totally new, maximalist refraction of disco and searing post-punk.

“Reflektor” sets the tone with an infectious, intense dance floor jam. Disc one follows suit with fuzzed-out, aggressive beats filtered through a dark, reverb-heavy atmosphere.

These experiments make for an abrasive first half, but it pays off in highlights like the tropical techno bounce of “Here Comes the Night Time.”

Occasionally, the first half overextends itself, especially in its confrontational last stretch. Thankfully, disc two feels like a true companion piece, giving listeners catharsis where the first disc wound up the tension.

A spectral reprise of “Here Comes the Night Time” gives way to the insistent drum rolls that characterize “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” where singer Win Butler plays the part of Orpheus pleading to his love over Beatles-esque psychedelia.

As great as “Awful Sound” is, it’s the yin to the yang of “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus),” which sports the best disco-punk beat of the album and a hair-raising vocal from female singer Regine Chassagne.

The album closes with five minutes of subtle back-masked ambience after the subdued New Wave ballad “Supersymmetry.” It goes out, not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Arcade Fire play this kind of bait-and-switch game the whole album. They clearly want grandeur and ubiquity, but then they make “Reflektor” deliberately combative and avoid the more accessible routes they could have taken.

After repeated listening, “Reflektor” seems less like obvious self-indulgence or a rejection of the mainstream than simply like a strange, flawed collection of songs that frequently approach brilliance.

It’s not quite the masterpiece it wants to be. Many fans will likely be turned off by the dense, cavernous dance beats, but for this listener, “Reflektor” is a fascinating album, as harsh as it is beautifully crafted.

Review: four out of five stars

REVIEW: COLIN MOORE, Senior A&E Reporter