3 min

Vive Montréal

Death, drugs & dancing

Credit: Xtra files

Montreal’s The Arcade Fire recorded its debut album from August 2003 into the winter of 2004. During that time members Win Butler and Regine Chassagne were married. Chassagne’s grandma died June 2003. Butler’s grand-father died March 2004 and fellow band member Richard Reed Parry’s aunt died April 2004. The album is called Funeral.

And like The Polyphonic Spree, The Hidden Cameras and The Concretes, The Arcade Fire is a large outfit (six members plus nine honorary members). These musical extended families are an interesting and curious development. There’s strength (and comfort) in numbers as these travelling troubadours take over with their grandiose introspective, fragile and romantic offerings.

The Arcade Fire’s Funeral is a little different. It’s rife with frustration, death and poetic soul-searching. The lyrics are so unbelievably haunting while the music is aggressive yet compassionate.

The atmospheric “Neighborhood # 1 (Tunnels)” introduces you to the brilliance of the kind-hearted visual storytelling – through music and lyrics – that The Arcade Fire is capable of. Vocalist Butler has a nervous boyish lilt to his voice as he sings to his beloved. On a snowy night he longs to be with her, away from the sadness of home. “And if the snow buries my/ My neighbourhood/ And if my parents are crying/ Then I’ll dig a tunnel/ From my window to yours,” he confides, as the piano charges through the chaotic xylophones and abrupt guitars and drums. “Neighborhood # 3 (Power Out)” takes a more forceful stance with its riotous guitars and mighty violins punctuating Butler’s intense impassioned delivery. “Neighbourhood # 4 (7 Kettles)” is a delicate number in which you hear the squeaks of guitar strings as Butler sings, “Time keeps creepin’ through the neighbourhood/ Killin’ old folks/ Wakin’ up babies just like we knew it would.”

The production is extremely dense; the songs are rich with humanistic ideals. Every track captures your heart, brain and ears in its pathos – a similar feel to the sweeping majestic pop of 1980s stalwarts Prefab Sprout, Echo And The Bunnymen and The Waterboys (with a splash of the hard-edged determination of Talking Heads ). The string arrangements by Owen Pallett (Hidden Cameras, Les Mouches), Sarah Neufeld and The Fires is awe-inspiring and takes the tunes to an unbelievably sophisticated level. I really can’t get over how stunning this album is. I’m not at all apprehensive in calling it a classic.

“Crown Of Love” is as romantic as a song can get. Butler sings, “If you still want me/ Please forgive me/ The crown of love is not upon me.” As the song nears its end the violins enter full force then fade as the spirited “Wake Up” begins (this song has the similar entrancing quality of The Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize?”). It’s explosive and smart as a whip. Butler screams in desperation as Chassagne’s similar phrasing creeps up from behind. “We’re just a million little gods causin’ rain storms/ Turnin’ every good thing to rust/ I guess we’ll have to adjust.”

Chassagne takes over the vocals on two tracks: “Haiti” and the forelorn last track “In The Backseat.” She’s the female equivalent of Butler. She’s all aflutter yet, when needed, her voice soars with unbridled power. “In The Backseat” is breathtaking as Chassagne sings through the emotional orchestrations. When she states, “My family tree’s losing all its leaves,” she cries and howls. Everything gets heavy as the aggressive guitars and violins tragically state the obvious – life is beautiful and death sucks ass (in a bad way).

Lesbians On Ecstasy also hail from Montreal. But the grrrlz just want to have fun! On their half-assed and uneven self-titled debut, these Sapphic crazies have loosely based all the songs on clichéd lesbian tunes. Members Fruity Frankie, Bernie Bankrupt, Veronique Mystique and Jackie Hammer are not so much inspired by or aspiring to the lesbian folk aesthetic. They just want to deconstruct it so you can get you’re freak on.

The album starts with the smart and sassy “Parachute Clubbing” which takes The Parachute Club’s “Rise Up” and makes it a rockin’ drum-and-bass dance track. The play on the familiar lyrics is inspired. Frankie flirtatiously comments, “It’s time for fornication/ The people’s time has come.” They dip into Melissa, kd, The Indigo Girls and Tracy Chapman. There really isn’t much here except the fun in the familiar being fucked around with such nonchalant abandon. It’s a novelty, but not Jive-Bunnily so. When Principal Frankie states, “Miss Pope please report to the principal’s office” on “The Pleasure Principle” and the heavy metal guitars crunch and burn to Hammer’s heavy beats you know what these gals are all about. As they’ve told the press, “LOE is what we imagined lesbians taking ecstasy for the first time would want to listen to.” And dance to. Hello!


The Arcade Fire.

Merge Records. $16.99.


Lesbians On Ecstasy.

Alien 8 Recordings. $17.99.