My #1 album of 2010: Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”

Without question, Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs”, the Canadian outfit’s 3rd studio release, is the most wonder-filled, enchanted release of 2010.  I’ve loved Arcade Fire since the first time I heard them–the bright-eyed sounds of innocence brushing up against death in their debut, the apocalyptic giddiness of their underrated “Neon Bible.”  But as a sonic whole, “The Suburbs” is their most complete album yet. It’s hard for me to write about insofar that every time I hear it I have a different reason to love it.

I don’t know how one record can alternate so easily between the eerie, unsettled sense of revisiting old places with adult eyes and finding them more haunting, and such expressions of unrestrained joy.  The thing that makes Arcade Fire so different is that they narrowly escape self-conscious postmodern irony–there is nothing forced or cynical about this album.  And in general that is the novelty of Arcade Fire–it’s not an act.  The emotions that bubble through The Suburbs are complex, but they are genuine.  It’s an album that you have to spill blood to make.

Favorite tracks include the title track, “The Suburbs,” a lingering slow burn that you love more on your 20th listen than your first; the understated, groove-laden “Modern Man,” the uncorked expression of the band at their most Arcade Fire-est “City with No Children in It,” the simple but ominous, “We Used to Wait,” and the brilliant 2-part anchors of Half-ligth 1 and 2 and Sprawl 1 and 2.  Oops–I think I just listed over half the songs on the album.  I might have rattled off the other half tomorrow depending on my mood.

The interesting thing about “The Suburbs” is that it truly is an album for all seasons.  If you are pensive and reflective, it works on one level…if you are celebrating it works on another.  When Amanda and I went to Kuaui this year for our anniversary, we listened to it dozens of time while driving around the island with the top down.  Back at home, watching the surreal but painful scene of Eastland Mall being emptied out during its final days, it meant something else:  with only a few stores left in the mall but the generic elevator pop still playing down the corridors…the sad disposition of the custodial staff working their final shift…this once glorious Charlotte landmark looking like a set for a zombie movie…the theater where we saw God come down empty and cold.  To behold all of this with the backdrop of Sprawl II’s haunting chorus, “Living in the Sprawl/Dead shopping malls rise like mountains upon mountains/And there’s no end in sight/I need the darkness someone please cut the lights” was an experience I will never forget.

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