October 4, 2010 / Perspective
Brett McCracken. Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2010. 255 …
April 4, 2005
It’s tempting to call 2004 The Comeback of Indie Rock, but the reality is that Indie has never been more here than now. With the triumphant return of The Pixies, the extended reissue of Pavement’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and excellent new albums by Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie, The Shins, etc., the past and present of Indie Rock took its legitimate place inside its own hipster myth. With all of the great Indie material from 2004, the most strikingly essential release was Funeral, the debut from the unknown Montreal collective Arcade Fire. Informed by deaths in four band members’ families, Funeral is a beautiful, orchestral mess of guitars and xylophones, voices and violins, pianos and pains, with more addictive melodies than you can shake an accordion riff at. Funeral is a vital sounding record that bursts forth from a cold, mourning place with joy and excitement, and more than a few surprises.
The lead-off track, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”, emerges on a bed of light pianos with strings and distorted guitars creeping in from either side to describe a snow-covered town where dreams and desires co-mingle. “And if my parents are crying/ Then I’ll dig a tunnel/ From my window to yours.” The sense of wintertime solitude seems impermeable, until the beat morphs into a driving, cathartic frenzy that begs for a little bedroom boogie. It’s easy to picture folks snowed in with only guitars and each other to keep occupied. “And since there’s no one that’s around/ We’ll let our hair grow long/ And forget all we used to know….Then our skin gets thicker/ From living out in the snow.” An elegant beginning to this surprisingly mature set of songs, “Neighborhood #1” introduces the recurring theme of facing the onset of adulthood with equal parts fear and elation.
“Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” is a raucous affair of machine-gun guitars and rolling xylophones where darkness creeps at the edges but never obscures the light. Bouncing back and forth between upbeat major chords and sustained, bassy minor chords, “Power Out” is exhilarating from beginning to end. “The Crown of Love” is the centerpiece in an album full of them, an elegiac waltz dancing by on saloon pianos, mourning a lost love, pleading for a second chance. “If you still want me/ Please forgive me/ The crown of love/ Is falling from me.” The diverse arrangement is reminiscent of St. Dominic’s era Van Morrison, accenting each verse with a different instrumental flourish, from plunky pianos to swinging guitars to swooning strings. “The only thing/ That you keep changing/ Is your name/ My love keeps growing.” A sense of urgency and sincerity permeates the song, lending drama without being melodramatic. Just when the song threatens to bog down in its own arrangement, they shift on a dime to a victorious disco beat that would give Franz Ferdinand a run for their money.
“Wake Up” is a hands-in-the-air, all-voices-on-deck sing along bursting with energy. Melding a lyrical world-weariness with musical exuberance, “Wake Up” is the perfect anthem for the new Indie intelligentsia, questioning the moral, social framework without evoking the usual hollow cynicism. “Something, filled up my heart/ With nothing/ Someone told me not to cry….Now that I’m older/ My heart’s colder/ And I can see that it’s a lie.” Few songs in recent memory have expressed the internal coming-of-age conflict as honestly or poignantly. Seething on top of the larger-than-life power chords, lead singer Win Butler seems to sing away his anxiety. “Children, don’t grow up/ Our bodies get bigger/ But our hearts get torn up….I guess we’ll just have to adjust.” Evolving into a 1950’s piano-pop boogie, the song ends with the ringing sentiment, “You better look out for love.” Ain’t it the truth.
“Haiti” is a charming Caribbean lullaby sung in both French and English, lilting about on the infectious faux-steel drum melodies. “Rebellion (Lies)” is a vibrant gem, driving along on the insistent beat and persistent piano stabs. “Come on baby in our dreams/ We can leave all this behavior/ Every time you close your eyes.” About three minutes in, the backing vocals start to soar and the hand claps come alive, and “Rebellion” ignites all the senses to a cathartic climax. “Now here’s the sun, it’s all right/ Here’s the moon, it’s all right/ Every time you close your eyes.” The song feels like it’s everywhere at once, on both the sun and the moon, shining brightly for all to see.
Funeral is a vastly original album that offers fresh delights with each listen. It is a big accomplishment for a new, young band to deliver a debut that never collapses under the weight of its own artistic ambitions, which reaches for the stars and connects with the listener in ways both fun and profound. It embodies that which Indie Rock should – creativity, vision, passion, and intelligence, and you can dance to it – what else do you want?
Nate Gowtham is a writer, husband, musician, and engineer who lives in that large island-city on the east coast.