Their debut, Funeral, was released in September by the estimable indie Merge Records and has already sold tens of thousands of copies, atypical numbers for most any band on an independent label. They're now in the midst of a tour that has sold out with Springsteenian speed (if not Springsteenian numbers), in some cases with dates added due to demand. The exception, of course, is our humble backwater, where tickets are still available at press time.
Funeral wound up on almost every responsible critic's year-end best list, and no less an indie authority than Pitchforkmedia.com named it the best album of 2004.
The whys of the Arcade Fire's success aren't terribly difficult to suss out, to the extent that Funeral is an exceptionally good album. But quality and success tend to be only tangentially correlated in the indie rock world (ask Devendra Banhart), so there must be another factor. It can't be that the Arcade Fire are being showered with adulation merely because they're good, can it? Perhaps yes.
How the Arcade Fire came to be the "flavor of the month" (as they themselves put it during their New York City debut in October) is an object lesson in the ways in which the media landscape is changing. The traditional model of distribution is in its death throes; broadcast radio becomes less relevant with each passing day (especially with the advent of satellite radio), and CDs will eventually occupy only landfills, time capsules and the musty bedrooms of object fetishists.
Funeral e"merge"d, if you'll pardon the pun, in a way that's a testament to the power of the mighty Internet. Pitchfork was hip to them as early as May, but the early buzz was due in significant part to the wholly new phenomenon of mp3 blogging, which is just as it sounds --weblogs devoted to exploring new music via MP3s. Outlets like Largehearted Boy, Fluxblog and Scott Lapatine's Stereogum--three of the more influential MP3 blogs--were enthusiastically recommending Funeral before its release. The album was posted in its entirety on indietorrents.com (a bittorrent download site) in August and subsequently downloaded nearly 1,000 times. By the time trad media, like The New York Times, took notice, The Arcade Fire had already been anointed. The Times acted like an uncle who "introduces" you to Radiohead in a feeble attempt to seem hip.
What's perhaps most remarkable about all of this is that it happened largely unabetted by the band or their label, and is therefore a testament to quality alone. No one engineered the "hype" that said Funeral was one of the best albums of 2004, so the adulation with which the album met mustn't have been hyperbolic, but rather an accurate reflection of how those who heard the Arcade Fire responded to them. Any need for salesmanship was completely obviated.
Again, it should be pointed out just how much Funeral warrants its acclaim. Recorded during a time of much familial death (thus the title), the album is a beautiful harnessing of emotional turbulence to transcendent and cathartic effect. They expertly use the power of the "build," wherein the songs achieve epic scope via the contrast between restraint and crescendo. The Arcade Fire managed to make Funeral concomitantly tragic (in a way that's not maudlin) and uplifting (without being "Up With People"). And they did it using standard tools of the pop idiom--guitar, drums, bass and 15 other frigging instruments, plus the two beautiful voices of the recently married Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the band's principal songwriters.
By most accounts, the Arcade Fire are a preternaturally good live band as well, which is all the more remarkable when you factor in their relative inexperience. When they take the stage at Solar Culture on Tuesday, it'll be for a show that's all but destined to go down as legendary, if only due to the fact that the next time the Arcade Fire comes through, it's likely to be at AVA. That is, if their current trajectory holds.