Since early 2004, Montreal based Arcade Fire have been (mostly) successful in bringing thoughtful, poignant indie rock laced with arena rock bravado to a scenethat wsn’t always open to that concept. In the more than decade since their debut, the band has released five quite different albums. Themes of abandonment, loneliness, and recklessness seep through them all. Truth be told, this list was difficult to make, if only because the band has so many worthy songs, but in the end I think it’s a full and complete list.
10. NORMAL PERSON: REFLEKTOR
Starting the countdown at number 10, we get a haunting, slow burning track in the shape of “Normal Person.” On a first listen the song doesn’t stand out as the underrated gem it actually is, but with added listens it begins to click with the listener. “Normal Person” starts with an ease and reverb that both work well, but as the track sways behind Win’s hushed, slightly whispered voice, as all the pieces come together. It has an attitude that’s easy to spot, but it’s not a dick head attitude. It’s the confidence you get from growing from your art, and I suppose being praised by many many people. It’s a track that blends gothic rock and soaring chorus in a way that could only work for the Arcade Fire.
9. KEEP THE CAR RUNNING: NEON BIBLE
The plucking of the strings, added with the more orchestral elements signal the arrival of the track much like the headlights of a running car announce an arrival. This symbolism is hard to spot, but the urgency of the song makes for a bold, yet unexpected brand of chase music.. The chanting by Win and company during the bridges gather like voices around a fire, and the agony of the beat aching to be free, sets your spirit. With the engine roaring, and the windows down, you feel free in the imagery presented. If the theme of the song is running from your problems, then the voices reminding you of the difficulties you face during the song are your call to arms for escaping.
8. MY BODY IS A CAGE: NEON BIBLE
Win's voice comes out, and the sadness is not only palpable, but it's as if his life depends on getting these words out. The whole theme of the album really comes into extremely clear view here too. The choral atmosphere, along with the chamber music and organ makes the song thick. Early during the song the tension is built methodically by the use of the organ and the oldest Butler's voice until the moment the pressure can’t be contained. The song is the statement of defeat by a generation stuck between getting everything they wanted and not expecting anything at all. That in itself is a difficult world to navigate, but in these resounding moments of clarity, “My Body is a Cage” is a reminder that we are all still living, breathing, navigating this thing called Life.
7. HAITI: FUNERAL
Named after Regine’s homeland and sung by Regine herself, “Haiti” is a love letter to her native land, with the instrumental leaning more heavily into island culture and rhythmic arrangements most average Americans take for granted, if we acknowledge it at all. The song borders on indie world music, but it never fully gets there. Regardless, Regine’s voice has a raspy yet purposeful pace to her delivery, and in moments like the Haitian language delivered finale,you allow yourself to get lost in it, which never hurts when you’re experiencing a song that comes from dueling lands and attitudes.
6. NO CARS GO: NEON BIBLE
In contrast to the other song with “Car” in the title, “No Cars Go,” a song nestled near the end of “Neon Bible” reverberates in a rushed manner throughout its nearly six minute duration. The drums from Jeremy Gara beat like your life depends on it, while the xylophone and other instruments move the track along in a way that hookes the listener while also making it easy to digest the nature of the lyrics. Those lyrics, again speak to an escapism of sorts that only Arcade Fire specialize in creating. “Between the click of the light and the start of the dream,” isn’t just a beautiful line, but in fact is everything that is possible when your mind is clear and open to what if. That’s what “No Cars Go” is to me, all the possibles and places we can go and things we can do if we separate from the contest hustle and bustle.
5. MONTH OF MAY: SUBURBS
Probably the most intense, blink and you’ll miss it song on the list of the Top Ten Arcade Fire Songs, “Month of May,” finds us at number six. It’s always reminded me of an angry version of an Arcade Fire song if surf punks had recorded it. It’s full of folded arms being disobedient, but that only lasts until it’s time to put your fists in the air and chant “First they built the roads, then they built the town.” That moment is important, but it’s made even better by the drum beat that precedes it. From the first listen until now, it’s remained a stark example of how different this band can be when the moment calls for it, and that they can in fact write a very intense, gut wrenching track. It’s unimpressed in your likes and dislikes, and it wants you to feel it.
4. REBELLION (LIES): FUNERAL
Everyone by this point should have seen the epic performance of this song at AF’s first Coachella appearance. One could even argue it’s the performance that poised them for the major success that was yet to come. It’s still really incredible. Anyway, the track is one of the last on the all around perfect “Funeral,” and over the course of five minutes and eleven seconds the band proves what’s now clearly obvious, and has been for years. That is simply, that they rock in many ways. The album itself reeks of death and mourning, and on “Rebellion(Lies)” the band drill that concept of life and recklessness into existence. The backing vocals are well placed, as is the powerful yet subtle drumming by Jeremy Gara. The song builds and builds until the climax, and everyone is urged to joyously sing and dance to the “Rebellion” happening all around us.
3. READY TO START: SUBURBS
Another song in the top five that is largely remembered as part of a landmark, historic performance at Coachella. The third time the band played, finally landing the headlining spot, the encore started with this track. By this point the balls that had fallen from the stage were turning lights in sync with the music, and of course the crowd lost their mind. The track itself though has this mysterious hue over it, and the energy surrounding the track is dark and foreboding in the best way the band knows how to deliver. Clearly a great song off another nearly perfect album, “Ready to Start” not only stands as a dark reminder of what “The Suburbs” may have in store for us, but it also comes in at number four on the Top Ten Arcade Fire songs.
2. WAKE UP: FUNERAL
Without a doubt, there wasn’t any other song that could have been number one. At the top of the list, “Wake Up,” from the seminal “Funeral,” presents us with chants galore which are able to allow us to free ourselves from complicated lives, if only just for a moment. Everything soars here, quite simply. The guitar riff at the outset sets the pace, then the drums add a little bit of force to it, but then the real magic happens when the iconic chant occurs nearing the thirty second mark. The songs on the album speak to the truths of life, and that all things must come to an end, but I think “Wake Up” stands up as a reminder that sometimes life is dismal, but it’s the unfortunate events that truly make us better people. It’s also a sobering look at the world we live in, and how important it is to stay positive as “our hearts get torn up.”
1. SPRAWLS II(MOUNTAINS BEYOND MOUNTAINS): SUBURBS
The choice between number one and two was difficult, but in the end it had to be done. “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)” not only reaches nearly to the top of the pile, but it helps to tie all the themes running rampant on “The Suburbs” into one spectacular and beautiful bow. Regine’s voice again shines through, but through it all the song's success lies not just with her gorgeous rendition of a monotonous life, but in fact with all the members of the band who excel at writing music that people can relate to. That idea of “We can never get away from the Sprawl” is a real, complicated feeling that many people have with their hometowns, whether or not the grow up in “The Suburbs,” but it’s in that moment you realize the world is one big Sprawl, and over Mountain lies the potential to exist a Sprawl that’s perfectly weird in the exact way we are, and we can make the best of what the world has to offer.
Landon Murray is a New Orleans native, who thrives on painting the world he interprets through the useful forms of all types of art he feels connected to. He's seen over 1000 bands, and had loved mostly every minute of it. He has an amazing 10 year old dog, and is loving life.
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