Concept: Arcade Fire’s central family reflects on their childhoods in the Canadian suburbs. As one critic eloquently put it, Funeral portrayed the death of a loved one like the end of the world, and Neon Bible was the inverse. The Suburbs hopes to deal with the more common, more pernicious issue of stifled ambition and false hope.

Sound: Before hitting upon the album’s positives, let’s dispel the myth of Arcade Fire’s towering genius and influence. They can’t have a whole lot of influence when all they are doing essentially is “reviving” the sounds and spirit of older bands. They already admitted this album was Depeche Mode meets Neil Young. That’s only half true, because they have foremost been a clone of Springsteen, and they can’t possibly have revived Springsteen, because Springsteen’s still here — why there he is now, standing right next to Win Butler performing an Arcade Fire song better than they can. By the way, Mr. Butler, was that you starting a rhythmic audience clap? Get out. Another chip off the Boss block, The Gaslight Anthem, established themselves on the music scene without riding a raging messianic tide of acclaim. They don’t need it, because unlike Arcade Fire they aren’t busting their asses attempting to be artistic about their shtick, and they aren’t boring. How do you unrepentantly imitate Springsteen and yet manage to so often make it, of all the things good and bad in his work, boring? The answer is that Butler, who must not be taken for a musical fool, has often been content to borrow a single wrinkly old pop rock progression, sometimes adding a clever twist somewhere in the middle, turn the volume down, cut the tempo in half, and then repeat it endlessly as both verse and chorus while melodramatizing it with snowballing layers of instumentation that often don’t even bother to harmonize or do so much as add rhythm. Nearly the only thing that redeemed Neon Bible of this was its brilliant anthemic closing track, My Body Is A Cage, perfectly suited for such an approach.
The good news about The Suburbs is not only has Arcade Fire exhibited some diversification of their tastes, but they’re more exciting of a listen track for track than they’ve ever been. Three of the first four songs are a welcome change for the band: the bleary-eyed ragtime opener; the hitching 9/8 frustration and paper thin optimism of Modern Man; the grand, OK Computer-esque anxiety of Rococo. At either end of a stretch of snoozers are Empty Room and Month Of May, both recalling the blurred dissonance and post-punk savvy of Sonic Youth. With the later tracks Deep Blue, We Used To Wait, and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), the impression is given that Arcade Fire is making an effort to subsume all the pop subgenres of the mid to late 1980s. The resultant tragically tacky and misguided futurism works out as one of several good ways to close an album of qualms with suburbia, even if the gesture doesn’t quite engage or entertain.

Lyrics: Arcade Fire, while occassionally hitting on an indelible image, doesn’t have the biggest way with words. They shoulder some pretty corny black-and-white ideas and they’re not afraid of proselytizing. The album’s more significant lyrics in a nutshell: you spend your life waiting and then it has passed you by, you don’t recognize your old friends, you want to escape the bright lights of civilization for the freedom of darkness and unknowing, and we’re all still impure, impatient children. The bands’ skill with inflection makes all the difference with many seemingly poor lines.

Quick And Dirty: A step in the right direction, stuffing classic rock sound with baroque pop figures old and new and a sprinkling of dark noise. If you’re an Arcade Fire fan, odds are nothing will ever measure up to Funeral for you, but this surely comes close, and for everyone else it will come off much better. (♦♦♦♦)

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Concept: The hipster demigods root their fourth LP in samples of New Age hypnotherapy tapes.

Sound: The Books’ completely distinct sound has its share of great results. Exhibit A, their masterpiece Tokyo. With The Way Out, they move even further from their original sound in the same way they did on the last album — more of vocalist Nick Zammuto, more electric distortion. This is easily their loudest album, which isn’t saying much, but it’s thus the easiest to keep your attention on, for what it’s worth. Of their new sound, I Am Who I Am and The Story Of Hip Hop stand out. There are a few remnants of their more familiar sound with its shades of folk and classical, I Didn’t Know That and Beautiful People being the most accomplished. While some people complain that Zammuto’s voice is too tepid, the biggest obstacle for The Books is a consequence of its essential method of constantly gathering the most obscure material possible for its sound. The sample-heavy tracks are expertly coordinated from moment to moment, but are they actually organized? What are we supposed to hold onto or take from these trains of non-sequitur after non-sequitur? Plenty of people would argue there is a difference between music and a gag reel. While people can become accustomed to just about anything, there remains a point where form begins to detract from function, and The Books spend a lot of their time teetering on that point.

Lyrics: Boldly expanding the boundaries of nonsensicality by reassembling already bizarre therepeutic scam jargon. Have a taste of the final track, Group Autogenics II: “…tuning in now to the feet. You might try lifting them up towards the ears, and when you feel comfortable with it, allowing your eyes to close gently, in your mind’s eye. Your being merges with the garbage, becomes one with it, so that all your energies in this moment are held in awareness by the smells, and remembering that there is no one right way to doing the dishes. And let go completely of the question of time. When this happens, as an experiment, see if you can float on a rubber raft into a big pot of boredom, letting it all cook in your mind’s eye, where it cooks all by itself, stirring it, perhaps, every once and a while. Is that ok with you?/… /You are becoming, beyond any shadow of a doubt, Blue Rose. Blue Rose!”
Well, is that ok with you? How important is uniqueness to your sensibilities? Do you mind it driving you nuts? Maybe that’s The Books’ point. Maybe.

Quick And Dirty: Still sounds like nothing else by sounding like as much else, musical or not, as conceivably possible. If an individual style is your only standard, kneel before your idol. If you have any other expectations, there’s no guarantee whether The Books will satisfy. (♦♦♦½)

Apology/Game Plan

July 21, 2010

To all our blog’s beloved viewers,

What’s it been? Five months? The two principal writers of KJNB reviews have been abroad for the past semester, and thus become extremely neglectful. We are resuming our duties presently! Below you will find a list of albums we intended to get to but didn’t, and below that our make-up reviews of albums extending back to February with Jaga Jazzist’s One-Armed Bandit. Thank you all very much for your interest and input. This is quite frankly a great year for music. See you around!

The Tallest Man On Earth – Wild Hunt (Positive)

Fionn Regan – Shadow Of An Empire (Mixed)

Foals – Total Life Forever (Negative)

Black Keys – Brothers (Positive)

The Gaslight Anthem – American Slang (Positive)

Jason Moran – Ten (???)