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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Top 10 Arcade Fire Songs

It's hard to summarize the discography of a band like Arcade Fire in just ten songs, even if they've released as few (three, soon to be four) studio albums as these Canadian indie rockers have. Every single song is so compelling, so interesting, so satisfying, that it's nearly impossible to find two fans who would be able to completely agree on a top 10 list. So, needless to say, this is extremely subjective. A combination of several factors, such as popularity, importance, personal opinions, and gut feelings went in to developing this countdown, so it's likely one of your favorite songs will miss out. Disregarding the songs from the new, now-streaming Reflektor, as a measly two days is not nearly eneough time to evaluate such layered songs, here are my top ten songs bv Arcade Fire.

10. "My Body Is a Cage" - Neon Bible

The organ-filled, choir-containing epic "My Body Is a Cage" closes out the band's sophomore effort, 2007's Neon Bible, with a bang. Starting with those looming church organs and Win Butler's haunting melody, the song is one of the band's most lyrically interesting. The "body" Butler is referring to could be a number of things; a community, a relationship, or a literal body. Most likely, though, he's singing about his own mental state, one that keeps him trapped and prevents him from loving anybody. The lyrics hint at this, "I'm living in an age that calls darkness light" and "I'm standing on a stage of fear and self-doubt" being the most direct links to the theory. Either way, the song itself is magnificent; the point where the drums enter and the keys pick up ramps up the intensity factor significantly. The tune is particularly slow or Arcade Fire, but that doesn't limit it, but in fact enhances its quality as both an individual track and within the context of Neon Bible as the end of a journey.

9. "Keep the Car Running" - Neon Bible

Going from one of Neon Bible's slowest songs to one its most energetic, #9 on this list goes to the record's second song, "Keep the Car Running." A mandolin, an orchestra, and a hurdy-gurdy were all thrown into the mix for this track, which relies on its joyous drum beat to push on ahead. It's a full-sounding song, as one with so much going on should, but it maintains to avoid verging on over-bearing. Everything played subtly, so that no one component overshadows another, but collectively sounding gigantic. This is a trademark of Arcade Fire, something that is commonplace in their music. "Keep the Car Running" is also one of their most fun listens, complete with a racous sing-along chorus, and deservedly earns a spot here.

8. "Wake Up" - Funeral

"Wake Up" is the Arcade Fire track that the average person is most likely to recognize, whether it's due to its appearance in movies, its use at sporting events (including Super Bowl XLIV), or its status as one of the most popular alternative songs of the 2000's. The definition of uplifting, the shouted chorus of "oh's" just screams "sing along!" And that's what many of the band's fans have been doing ever since. Anthemic, infectious, and grand, "Wake Up" never ceases to impress. Throughout the song, violins and crunchy guitars provide a back drop for the group's universal message of honesty, awareness, and opening up. Once the tempo picks up, the band chugs along for a jaunty finish. The song is one that's hard to dislike, no matter what kind of music background you come from.

7. "Suburban War" - The Suburbs

The first cameo from 2010's The Suburbs is the mournful "Suburban War." Like the rest of the album, "Suburban War" discusses life growing up in, well, the suburbs. "Let's go for a drive and see the town tonight, there's nothing to do but I don't mind when I'm with you," sings Butler. Other notable lyrics here include "the music divides us into tribes, you choose your side, I'll choose my side," and "all my old friends, they don't know me now." Built behind a plucky guitar riff and a rippling tom-tom beat, the track is a standout on the Grammy-winning record. As everything drops away, intense guitar feedback is joined by a truly thundering drum beat. The song speeds up, the old guitar riff returning revitalized and more anxious. All in all, "Suburban War" is one of the group's most underrated pieces of work, and should be more universally recognized.

6. "No Cars Go" - Neon Bible

Another song with a tempo switch mid-way through, "No Cars Go" starts off as a rush of hi-hats and horns, and ends as a snare-drum march accompanied by, you guessed it, a sing-along chorus of "oh"'s and "let's go!"'s. The furiously fast-paced first half contains several different instrumental parts, along with husband-and-wife singing duo Win Butler and Regine Chassagne harmonizing. The final part starts slowly and little by little gets faster and faster as Butler calls for everyone involved to "go," even though they "don't know where we're going." Another true anthem, "No Cars Go" displays Arcade Fire's ability to go from fired-up to focused in a matter of minutes.

5. "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" - The Suburbs

"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" was really the only indication of the direction Arcade Fire would take their music in for their fourth record, Reflektor, and what a glorious indication it was. This six-minute disco romp features Chassagne, not Butler, handling the lead vocal duties. Her cheery performance contrasts the song's bleak message; though her voice radiates with joy, Regine's singing lyrics like "These days, my life, I feel it has no purpose." It effectively concludes The Suburbs (other than the epilogue-style "The Suburbs (Continued)") with giving up and resigning to a life of mediocracy and boredom in the suburbs. Despite the negativity, the instrumentals shine, specifically those bouncy keyboards. "Sprawl II" was by far the most electronic song Arcade Fire had ever done (that is, before Reflektor), and showcases their proficient abilities to adopt different styles.

4. "Rebellion (Lies)" - Funeral

One of the group's breakout singles, "Rebellion (Lies)" is a joyous march in true Arcade Fire fashion. Combining a disco drum beat with a constantly chiming piano, soaring violin pieces, and increasingly emphatic vocals, the band creates something that invariably makes you happy while also making you think. The message of unconformity is not exactly original, but also not tiresome. This shimmering song is one of the highlights from Funeral, and is essential to any fan's library.

3. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" - Funeral

Opening the band's heavily-revered debut record Funeral, "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" introduced the world to everything that makes Arcade Fire unique. That individually-subtle-yet-united-forceful thing I mentioned earlier? Check. Gradual build-up and multiple sections? Check and check. Win Butler's nostalgic, honest-to-goodness vocals? You betcha. This song has it all. The correlating guitar and piano riffs work together brilliantly, the band as a whole sounds amazing, and the song is an outpouring of emotion. Even the reverb-laded production is excellent. It just barely misses out on top honors, as the next two songs do everything this track does, but with a more polished feel.

2. "Ready to Start" - The Suburbs

"Ready to Start" was the song that first got me really interested in Arcade Fire, thanks to its great energy and rebellious nature. The second track on The Suburbs, its role in the album's story is to show the lengths the speaker is willing to go to in order to escape his/her lethargic lifestyle. "If I was scared, I would. And if I was bored, you know I would," sings Butler. The track never lets up, and even when the speed slows down, the magnitude stays high. It's a loud, fun, fast, and exiciting song. And isn't that all you can ask for?

1. "The Suburbs" - The Suburbs

Right before "Ready to Start" hints at rebellion, "The Suburbs" sets the backdrop for the rest of the album. The song describes suburbian life as mundane, pointless, futile, and dreary. And while the lyrics are chilling, the track's beauty draws mostly from the actual music. Butler's vocals here may be his best, as he ranges from urgent shouts to careful whispers. The simple, monotonous drum beat complement's the lyrics, and the guitar parts work together well. The acoustic guitar lays the foundation while the electric counterpart plucks its way up and down the mix. As always, piano and violins play an important role too. The blend of all these different factors results in a truly outstanding piece of music, one that showcases the capabilities of music to express emotions. Haunting, desolate, and beautiful all at the same time, "The Suburbs" is without a doubt my choice for the best Arcade Fire song to date.

And, for what it's worth...
11. "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)"
12. "Crown of Love"
13. "Empty Room"
14. "We Used to Wait"
15. "The Well and the Lighthouse"
16. "Speaking in Tongues"
17. "(Antichrist Television Blues)"
18. "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations"
19. "Neon Bible"
20. "Wasted Hours"

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