We by Arcade Fire

My thoughts on Arcade Fire's latest album.

Album art of We by Arcade Fire, copyright Columbia Records

I could have sworn I listened to Arcade Fire’s new album, We, when it came out early last month, but if my Last.fm profile is to be believed, I only listened to three tracks: The Lightning I, The Lightning II, and Unconditional I. I stopped using Last.fm a couple weeks ago as I didn’t see the value, but today I found a use case: find out if I actually listened to something.

It’s possible I skipped a full listen because of some choice framing in the Pitchfork review, and the lead singer’s performance on SNL seemed halting and poorly rehearsed, almost as if he forgot the words to his own songs. Performing live music is complex though, it happens.

What an absolute banger of an album, though. It’s so good that I had to grab the Fostex TH-X00 pair of phones, fire up the Schiit stack and the Little Dot Mk. III tube amp, to properly deliver these melodious sounds, harmonized vocals, and thumping electronica straight to my ears. And the Apple Music/Dolby Atmos version sounds incredible on AirPods, despite the low bandwidth of Bluetooth.

“‘Thumping electronica?’ That’s not real Arcade Fire” you might harumph, as a long-time fan. And that’s fine. Discussing AF with my friend group usually results in two camps, those that grew up with Funeral and The Suburbs, and those that have only listened to Everything Now and possibly Reflektor. They’re divided on which of the two groups of albums are good.

Based on this limited pool of data, I might be an outlier[1] with my opinions on AF. I’m a big fan of Suburbs and Funeral, but I also love Everything Now, I don’t care what people say. I don’t like Reflektor, and having LCD Soundsystem involved doesn’t mean it was good. There’s only two tracks I like in Neon Bible[2].

We takes the sound I liked in Everything Now and expands on it, while also including some throwbacks to Suburbs and Funeral, which is clear on Unconditional I (Lookout Kid).

I felt that the first track, Age of Anxiety I, is about the over-connected world we live in. Age of Anxiety II (Rabbit Hole) is an ADHD anthem. I know, these titles are so obvious, so here’s one you won’t guess: End of the Empire IV (Sagittarius A*) is a song about unsubscribing from newsletters and deleting social media. This track and its sibling, End of the Empire I-III, are my favorite tracks on the album, but they all rank closely for me.

Arcade Fire is squarely in the mainstream indie category that I tend to avoid due to shallow lyrics and similar-sounding music, but this album is just too good to ignore. It’s an album you can sit and listen to, eyes closed in your armchair, for 40 minutes and 18 seconds, pondering each lyric, looking for new depths of meaning, while thwarting attempts of chomping on your headphone cable by your cat. But it’s also a perfectly fine album to put on in the background while doing something else and completely zone out on whatever the lyrics are, just enjoying the music without wondering which show Win Butler hates the fifth season of.

We by Arcade Fire.

  1. A position I take often, it seems. I think there’s a word for it. ↩︎

  2. Keep the Car Running and No Cars Go ↩︎