Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Arcade Fire, more

August 8, 2010 - 4:32pm -- Carol Diehl
While everyone seems to be complaining that contemporary art lacks heart, the same isn’t true in music. Maybe it’s because you don’t need an MFA to start a rock band, and you don’t need an agent anymore to promote it. Certainly your typical A & R person wouldn’t have found The Arcade Fire an ideal prospect—the Montreal-based band is just too big (eight core members, more on tour), and their first album (2004), written during a year in which several of the band’s family members passed away, was named Funeral. Yet it was such a success that they were instantly welcomed into the world of super-stardom by the likes of Bowie, Springsteen, Bono and David Byrne and played two sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden last week, one of which was broadcast live on YouTube. Even on the itty-bitty screen of my PC (see my Mac debacle in the comments of the post below), it was thrilling, and beyond heartfelt—but with just the right touch; somehow they manage to maintain their indie edge and art-band cool while performing with religious fervor.

Their newest album, The Suburbs is, in son Matt’s words, “a masterpiece.

In an Outliers kind of way, it’s fascinating to trace the sources of this idiosyncratic sound to the distinctive backgrounds of the married songwriting duo, Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, which includes, in Butler’s case (be sure to read Butler’s Wiki bio), descending from a lineage of professional musicians. In an interview I can no longer locate, Butler talks about how he never questioned the likelihood of making a life in music.

Chassange’s family emigrated to Canada from Haiti to escape the Duvalier regime, and she has written poetically about her closeness with that country’s struggles in this moving Guardian/Observer editorial, as well as in the song “Haiti,” from Funeral:

Haïti, mon pays,
wounded mother I'll never see.
Ma famille set me free.
Throw my ashes into the sea.

Mes cousins jamais nés
hantent les nuits de Duvalier.
Rien n'arrete nos esprits.
Guns can't kill what soldiers can't see.

In the forest we lie hiding,
unmarked graves where flowers grow.
Hear the soldiers angry yelling,
in the river we will go.

Tous les morts-nés forment une armée,
soon we will reclaim the earth.
All the tears and all the bodies
bring about our second birth.

Haïti, never free,
n'aie pas peur de sonner l'alarme.
Tes enfants sont partis,
In those days their blood was still warm

Chassange did, finally, visit Haiti after the earthquake.

"Wake Up," from Funeral


Love your blog. I caught Arcade Fire on Austin City Limits last year, quite by chance -as I never watch television. I think being introduced to the band "live" or at least in performance really blew me away. I remember I had that ACL playlist on my iTunes forever.

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