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Rhythm & Views

Arcade Fire

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An inventory of the song titles on Neon Bible, Arcade Fire's follow-up to 2004's Funeral, indicates that something more intense is at hand: "Black Mirror," "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations," "Ocean of Noise," "Antichrist Television Blues," "My Body Is a Cage." Apocalyptic, clearly, but the Arcade Fire are anything but predictable: Neon Bible, in its darkness, becomes redemptive. "There's not much chance for survival, if the Neon Bible is right," sings Win Butler on the title track, but the folky guitar melody and singer Régine Chassagne's whisper suggest that it isn't.

Lots of bands have exploited the tension between dark lyrics and uplifting music; Arcade Fire take it to an entirely different level. Glorious organ chords introduce "Intervention," and Butler sings, "every spark of friendship and love will die alone." The blend becomes both mournful and exuberant, to the point that it's almost hard to tell which is which. Is it tragic to remain joyful? Is it uplifting to accept death?

Dwell peacefully in this tension, and there's payoff: "No Cars Go" has accordion and trilling flute over a new wave dance beat--the soundtrack for the space "between the click of the light and the start of the dream." "Antichrist Television Blues" subverts Springsteen, and the horns (reminiscent of our own Calexico) on "Oceans of Noise" become a sea of harmony. By the end, Butler is singing "Set my spirit free! Set my body free!" as organs reverberate ("My Body Is a Cage"): If this Neon Bible is right, salvation lies in the contemplative power of strings, drums and voices singing in chorus.

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