June 1, 2010


Douglas Martin recently fired his sousaphone player, citing “creative differences”.

One of the more overblown and unsavory aspects of underground music since the turn of the century has been the “orchestral indie-rock band.” It’s a weird scene when the rock stars are getting fitted for cummerbunds and tuning their violin strings, the groupies are thumbing through Tolstoy biographies, and the sidemen are freaking out because they can’t find their cello tuner. Now, I’m not a huge enough advocate for drugs to where I think everyone should be doing lines off of hardback covers, but I can’t help but imagine the backstage areas for some of these shows looking quite similar to the instrument closet before a high school band concert. Someone’s too busy sterilizing their mouthpiece to have a beer.

Alternately, the reaction to this movement has spawned a renewed interest in lo-fi music, which, although it has its good points (obviously most everything I’ve written about for Passion), it also has created droves of faceless bands who thwack a few atonal chords, slap it on a seven-inch slab of vinyl, press 200 copies, and sell all of them within a matter of days. On one hand, you have opera-rock playing arpeggios on violin. On the other, you have a bunch of kids in dirty t-shirts who learned two chords and then hit the “record” button. Pick your poison.

The Arcade Fire have a lot of sins to atone for, though nothing directly of their own volition. It seems like a bum deal to blame the Win Butler-led band for the legions of these types of bands that have crawled from the sewers since the epic Funeral hit records shops in 2004; I mean, Sufjan Stevens has to be assigned partial blame. A lot of these orchestral bands have the legions of players, the big, sweeping instrumental gestures, borderline-histrionic vocals, and the matching suits and dresses. Like what happens to most seminal bands, these young copycat groups forgot to pillage the things that made The Arcade Fire an “important” group in the first place: The attention to musical and lyrical detail, the recurring themes, and studied references. Those bands only sport a wall of sound and few cute string arrangements.

But now, with the release of “The Suburbs”/”Month of May”, the double-A-side from Montreal’s biggest group (both in volume and popularity), it appears as though the cultural climate of indie-rock was primed for their return. Although the songs themselves are merely adequate and not the earth-shattering, game-changing tunes people were anticipating– the former a jaunty acoustic-guitar-led track, the latter a driving rocker that dives headlong into Win Butler’s purported Springsteen influence– we mostly have more context than product at this point. Being as though the leak of “Intervention” didn’t lend many clues to Neon Bible‘s creative direction, I don’t want to take any guesses. The only thing I can effectively guess is that, for better or worse, Arcade Fire will be making a lot of noise both on- and off-stage this summer. Sterilize your mouthpieces.

MP3: Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs”

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