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THE ARCADE FIRE
It didn't produce any hit singles, but The Arcade Fire's 2004 debut Funeral was an underground classic, which transformed the eccentric Montreal large band, or small gang, into indie superstars. The dense, almost orchestral rock sound attracted widespread acclaim as the band went from unknowns to the next big thing.
Lots of pressure, therefore, was building for the followup - Neon Bible. But not much of a surprise for those who felt that singer/songwriter Wim Butler was a major discovery. The band arguably surpasses itself, creating a masterful album of introspective textures, relentless anthems, and joyous noise.
The album was recorded in a small town church outside Montreal where the band hunkered down to work on new material. And it was a fitting venue as Neon Bible is about the most spiritual sounding rock & roll record to come down the pike since U2's The Joshua Tree 20 years ago.
Following a strangely unsatisfying, edgy opener "Black Mirror", Butler and his bandmates (including wife Regine Chassagne), accompanied by string orchestras, gospel singers, the organ from the church, harps, and choirs, unleash the full force of their ensemble work. The mandolin-led rockabilly of "Keep the Car Running", the overt arena rock passion of "Intervention", the Roy Orbison stylings of "Ocean of Noise", and the 80s synth pop-turned 50s ballad "The Well and the Lighthouse" display the band's penchant for huge ambitions, deeply tapped emotional veins, and expansive arrangements.
But it gets better, with the epic "(Antichrist Television Blues)" sounding like the bastard cousin on Blonde on Blonde Dylan, the Spectorish wall of sound of "Windowsill" disguising its cynical view of modern society, and the refrain on the majestic "No Cars Go" approaching the heavens.
The closing hymn "My Body is a Cage" ends with the plea "set my spirit free, set my body free." Ironically, that's what they're doing to their listeners, with music that's one step from sorrow and just a skip and jump away from ecstasy.
Wincing the Night Away
Driving home late at night, and listening to Galgalatz, I was mesmerized by a song that came on after the 1 am news - bright, ringing pop, with an unforgettable Brian-Wilson-derived melody line, rippling guitars, British Invasion beat, but still sounding totally current.
I listened with bated breath to find out who this mysterious artist was, but the DJ immediately segued into ELO's "Can't Get You Out of My Head" - an omen of things to come. She told the listeners about the ELO song afterwards, but neglected to ID the first song, not the first time that's occurred with Israeli radio stations. Ugghhh, I banged the steering wheel, as I couldn't get the previous song out of my head.
The next morning, I took the matter into my own hands, called Galgalatz, talked to a nice, young soldier named Tomer who told me he'd have a look back at the play log and call me back.
Five minutes later, he actually did, and I learned that the song was "Phantom Limb" from the new album by The Shins, an indie guitar pop band from New Mexico that has made a couple endearing albums and attracted such a rabid cult following that Natalie Portman's character in the film Garden State gushes about them saying that "this band will change your life".
By 1 pm that day, I had made a beeline to my favorite Jerusalem record store Balance, and by 2 pm, I was hitting the repeat button on the CD player, thrilled that the song sounded as good the next day as it had sounded the previous night at 1:05 am.
The rest of the album? Well, it's not bad, some highs and some lows, but nothing like the sensory rush of "Phantom Limb". But even if I just play that song over the years, I'll still value purchasing Wincing the Night Away - if for no other reason, than it reminded me how it felt to hear an unknown song on the radio, feel that visceral connection, have it become part of my consciousness, and long to hear it again. It doesn't happen often, but when it does, it may not be life-changing but it does feel like falling in love with rock & roll all over again.
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