Album review: Arcade Fire, Reflektor (Sonovox)

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Album of the Week: Knocking on heaven's door, at maximum volume

The album cover image of Rodin's Orpheus & Eurydice signals the theme of Arcade Fire's longest and most involved album yet: this is a work all about loss and looking back, death and retrospection, memory and afterlife – big questions, tackled with suitable sonic majesty and, mercifully, the occasional sly grin.

The nature of heaven is a recurrent theme, right from the opening title-track. "If this is heaven, I don't know what it's for," sings Win Butler, "If I can't find you there, I don't care." The striding electro pulse swells ominously over seven minutes to a cacophonous conclusion, just the first of several moments when it feels as if you're being sucked into a black hole. "We Exist" is a rolling tsunami of sound with banked layers of keyboards; "Normal Person" is an electro-rock fuzz-guitar grunge barrage; and even the shortest track, "Flashbulb Eyes", manages to cram several kitchen-sinks' worth of harsh beats, zippy electronic noises and effects into a three-minute dub whirlpool. More extraordinary still is "Here Comes the Night Time", which speeds up and slows down before settling into a choppy groove with a subtle Caribbean flavour, then whips itself into another whirling vortex. "If there's no music in heaven," wonders Butler at one point, "then what's it for?"

"Joan of Arc" is a tribute to the Maid of Orleans in the style of a T. Rex glam-rock boogie swollen to outsize proportions, while "It's Never Over" pursues a wry rhetorical point – "when you get older, you will discover it's never over... it's over too soon" – over an itchy funk groove. A form of closure is reached on "Supersymmetry", a meditation on loss and memory whose percolating funk momentum recedes halfway through into fluttering drone textures, as if ghostly spirits were ascending. It's a brave and sometimes baffling album, broaching difficult themes; though faced with a series of such unforgiving electro-sonic maelstroms, one may hanker for the touches of folksy pastoralism that lightened earlier AF albums.

Download: It's Never Over; Reflektor; Here Comes the Night Time; After Life; Supersymmetry

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