A single this big deserves two videos… and 17 reviews. Yes, reviewing Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” is not a one or two-man job. Instead, we rounded together 17 professional critics, musicians, and comedians to offer their two-cents.
Taylor Rice, frontman of Local Natives
The first night we arrived in Montreal (where we began recordings for Hummingbird) we met up with the Arcade Fire crew in a small African Dance club. They were there hanging out with Superhero Doctor Paul Farmer, the medical genius behind the organization responsible for the most advanced and widespread treatment given in the third world, Partners In Health. Arcade Fire is known for their support of PIH, which has poured a lot of resources into helping communities in Haiti. Listening to “Reflektor” and watching the interactive video took me back to that night, which to me sounds very much how that evening felt. Arcade Fire are an inspiring band, but not because they are cutting edge, or have great melodies and musical aesthetic (which they are and do), they’re inspiring to me because they’ve made a career making people feel OK to be their most vulnerable and human. “Reflektor” asks you to have fun, while it asks you about death. It feels spiritual while it makes you reconsider your worldview. Watching them salsa and merengue on an 80% empty dance floor, not long after discussing the world’s hardest problems made me know they were making music I’d want to hear, and “Reflektor” proved that feeling right. Grade: A
Anthony Fantano of The Needle Drop
Arcade Fire does disco? I guess the genre really is back, isn’t it? Thanks Daft Punk! While I had a difficult time seeing the appeal of this direction toward the beginning of “Reflektor”, Arcade Fire approaches this long lamented musical style with the kind of passion and refinement that only they can. The band takes these peppy grooves to a higher level as the song progresses, incorporating some sharp synth leads, sultry backing horns, and what sounds like some airy string sections. Over its seven-minute run-time, the song evolves from a sleepy dance number to something both epic and sexy! Grade: B+
Dan Reilly, Contributing Editor for SPIN.com
Did we need more disco-inflected songs this year? And at nearly eight minutes long, did we really need this much of it from Arcade Fire? The icy beat and falsetto vocals create a bit of tension but it doesn’t build until the middle of “Reflektor”. And by that time, it’s hard to maintain interest, especially when your first listen involves waving a smartphone at a computer screen. It’s great seeing the band follow in the direction of “Sprawl II”, but that song had a much better melody and knew to quit around the five-minute mark. Perhaps it’ll grow on me, or perhaps I was just too excited by the involvment of James Murphy and David Bowie, but for these first few spins leave me wanting more. Grade: B-
Donald Glover, a.k.a. Childish Gambino
If you’re a fan of LCD Soundsystem, you’ll probably like this song. The interactive video made me feel a way I didn’t understand that much, but the alt video was really fly. Could’ve been a murder dream. A pretty one. Also made me watch Peter Gabriel videos.
It’s an excellent song. I was enjoying listening and relistening to Arcade Fire’s first studio track since the sublime “The Suburbs (Continued)”, then I actually read the lyrics and they’re devastating. The song is an indictment of the practice of pissing our lives away looking at our phones and computers. I strongly suggest reading the full lyrics. Then, like me, hopefully you’ll reconsider how you’re spending your time. So if it wasn’t enough that Arcade Fire has been creating lush, layered soundscapes around beautiful, dark, aspirational melodies you can swim in – for years – now they’re helping you live a better life too? Come on!
As for the music, it’s new ground for Arcade Fire. Not only does David Bowie sing in the background, I wonder if it’s him on the piano too, since it sounds a lot like the piano from Bowie’s Eno produced Berlin Trilogy era. But there’s aspects that sound like other Eno projects too, like Talking Heads or early Roxy Music. Blessedly, it even has hints of Soul Mining era The The. So this song is indeed “reflekting” music’s past (and Arcade Fire’s influences) while speaking to its listeners’ present. Lyrically, “Reflektor” addresses an real and immediate issue that I spend a lot of time thinking about, and it does so while being a bitchin’ and highly danceable tune. Thus, Arcade Fire remains right the hell on top with a song I could write plenty more about, but instead I’ll recommend you explore yourself.
Matt Shultz, frontman of Cage the Elephant
Like a highly trained professional assassin, Arcade Fire’s new track, “Reflektor” crept into my ears under a cool blanket of disco darkness. Calm, confident, and ready for the kill, it quickly establishes it’s strong foundation within a pulsating disco almost 70’s afro beat rhythm section. It’s a sound that seems so familiar and at the same time like nothing you’ve ever heard before. They have never been the type to follow trends and are clearly still marching to the beat of their own drum.
Butler’s haunting vocals sneak in with as much stealth as the rhythmic instrumental intro. He sings, “trapped in a prism, in a prism of light, Alone in the darkness, darkness of white” with a lonesome tone of disbelief very present in the delivery. The frustration builds in his voice and comes to a peak when he breaks into the chorus singing, “I thought I found the connector, it’s just a reflector” sounding like a child that’s been left in utter confusion by some kind of metaphysical mirage.
The entire track from front to back takes you on a timeless journey in sonics and lyrical content. There are swells and swirls of sound that weave in and out, rise and fall and aren’t only heard but also felt. Some how they always seem to be able to cause the listener to have that inexpressible feeling of running through an open field. Once again these musical snippers have proven they don’t miss their target. Their target, the human heart. Like highly trained professional assassins. Grade: A
David Greenwald, Contributing Editor for Billboard, freelance writer
Success can ruin a good thing more deeply than any failure. After the unprecedented explosion of Arcade Fire’s undeniable Funeral, the band swapped producers and subject matter for the strained, blustering Neon Bible; The Suburbs, the group’s third album, split the difference between intimacy and ambition and wound up winning them, and indie-hero label Merge Records, the Grammy for Album of the Year. Neon Bible has aged better than I expected and The Suburbs has its moments, so “ruin” is a strong word, but it’s been a long time since I’ve heard the band make anything as inspired and unique as its debut. And I wasn’t expecting to this week: this is a band that headlines festivals and tops award shows now, and the paths of least resistance would be to double-down on their sound or swerve hard into pop radio. “Reflektor” does neither. The single is a triumph of haunted disco, the group’s signature dread smoothed across seven minutes of slow-burn rhythm instead of inflated to dangerously melodramatic arena-rock heights. After a move that smart, David Bowie’s a bonus. Grade: A
Matt Sebastian, Founder of Slicing Up Eyeballs
While “Reflektor” comes as no great surprise, picking up the synthetic pulse of “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” both the standout and outlier of The Suburbs, it still works in nearly every way, riding that James Murphy groove for seven-and-a-half minutes as Win Butler searches for salvation in a reflective age and David Bowie — a man who knows something about being a reflection of a reflection — chimes in, too. Sprawling, indeed. Grade: A-
I absolutely love “Reflektor”. This could be because I’m totally biased in my nature as a fan, or that I’ve been waiting two exact years for something new to surface from Arcade Fire, or that they’ve managed to wholly encapsulate me whether that be with the dance element of the song, the fact that it is rumored to feature David freakin’ Bowie (that’s right, David freakin’ Bowie), or that the lyrical content is actually miles more superior to anything I’ve heard in 2013. Plus, dance music is totally the next step into the vortex.
That is to say, they have always reviewed the reclusiveness of modern presence but are now, in some way, confident enough to take on the sort of lambent, pellucid sound that mimics the desolation of cyber-culture, and make something real and flooring out of it.
Let us not disregard the visual offering that came with it, this is obviously one amongst many of its kind to come (especially since Kanye’s interactive “Black Skinhead”) but who doesn’t want to actually live-manipulate a video? Who doesn’t want to “break free”? Grade: A
Max Blau, Staff Writer for Creative Loafing, freelance writer
Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” makes me want to dance. It doesn’t make me want to weep or embrace of all humanity or bemoan my suburban childhood. It doesn’t remind me of Where the Wild Things Are or the NFL playoffs. That’s a good thing considering the Montreal art rockers had become increasingly more accessible, successful, and lackluster over the course of three albums. Their leadoff single is among the group’s most experimental songs to date. It’s also their longest, giving its members, producer James Murphy, and special guest David Bowie all the space they need. Frontman Win Butler said this week that the song is just one of several lengthy cuts from the group’s fourth record. If “Reflektor” is the shape of things to come, I’m all ears. Grade: B+
Zach Hart, Co-Founder of We Listen For You
How you like your Arcade Fire or any band that has developed their sound over multiple albums is the equivalent to how one takes their coffee or pizza topping preference. I like my Arcade Fire “Neighborhood #3”, the power out, raw, and with an energy that feels like the band is trapped behind the speakers and desperate to get out. “Reflektor” continues Arcade Fire’s movement into playing it a little safe and building on the previously established sounds of others rather than striving for a dirtier, individualistic sound that drove the magical Funeral. Neither move is right or wrong, but “Reflektor” feels more like the band covering LCD Soundsystem than Arcade Fire creating specifically for themselves. The one risk the band makes is releasing a single over seven minutes long, but this too is a mistake as the already one note song never truly builds or shifts enough to justify such a track length. The band is undeniably talented and the new song will be greatly warmly by many, but once again Arcade Fire trades out the blaring emotion that allowed them to become the band they are today for another track that acts as a suburban cul-de-sac…round and round with no real edge. Grade: C-
Casey Weissbuch, drummer of Diarrhea Planet
In my mind, Arcade Fire are true originals. This song is no exception to my perception of them being that way. The coolest thing about this new track is that it seems capable of standing completely on its own, free from trend or influence of any kind, and more singularly related to their progression as a band than anything else. It sounds like the next logical step from where their last album left off, its a little darker in sound, and lyrically it appears at first listen, more pondering and thoughtful than reflective as they were on The Suburbs. Grade: A
Ken Partridge, Editor-in-Chief for Diffuser.fm
Having taken big, dark and artsy about as far as they’ll go, the Arcade Fire try disco with the help of David Bowie and James Murphy. They’re up all night to get lucky, or maybe to ponder the nature of reality in our social media age, but no matter what this thing’s about, it’s the shiniest horror-pop groover since Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ Now we know the reason for the long hiatus: They’ve been practicing their choreography. Grade: A-
Kenny Bloggins, Founder of The Decibel Tolls
Admittedly, I’ve not kept up with Arcade Fire much after Win, in an act of tactical and nefarious malice, stole that dude’s basketball. Yet, like anyone who was sentient in 2004, Funeral will always hold a special place for me.Unfortunately, Butler and crew sacrificed what I loved about their earliest efforts; cultivating the morose into something aerodynamic and arena-ready just with the same acumen as Echo and the Bunnymen or The Smiths. Régine Chassagne’s vocals are perfectly noir and provide the best and most stunning facet of “Reflektor”, but ultimately this is lost under the over-compressed cheesy disco fare that’s become increasingly popular. I always respect a change of direction though, even if it’s not for the better. Grade: C+
Tyler Williams, drummer of The Head and the Heart
It’s not the bongos that help kick off the song, nor is it the David Bowie “Down, down, down” cameo… but somewhere, in the middle of listening to 7 minutes and 41 seconds of music, you start to find things that rub you the wrong way. It could be the repetitive use of the word “Reflektor” or the endless James Murphy-induced vamp that takes the song out. Either way, I’m bummed to see this track lacking a bit of editing. I’m a huge fan of this band and of the great song that exists on the first 4 minutes of tape here…still very excited to hear this record in it’s entirety. Grade: C
Caitlin White, freelance writer
Arcade Fire have always been great at building on their sound in an organic way, in a way that feels more like growing it than anything else. On “Reflektor” there’s the same interactive video elements that the band have dabbled in before and many of the sonic elements are familiar too, but there’s a distinct sense that they’re still moving forward in experimentation. The existential, reality-probing nature of their music is what has consistently set them apart from their peers and this new single is no different on that front either. Manipulating and managing the reflective surfaces of Win’s mournful sung-shout, Reginé’s ethereal en francais crooning and shifting strings, synths, noisemakers and drums, Butler and co. have concocted a piéce de rÃ¨sistance. Seven minutes that gyrate between tribal rhythms, clashing guitar and ’80s beats–what could be more Arcade Fire? Throw in some brassy solos and echoing effects amidst the eternal lyrical conundrum and the cipher is complete. If the rest of Reflektor is anything like this another Grammy nod might be in order. Grade: A
Michael Roffman, Editor-in-Chief for Consequence of Sound
Ma, all of those Pure Disco compilations paid off — disco’s back. Well, sort of. In the wake of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, Arcade Fire re-emerge with their own pair of dancing shoes yet they’re still clenching onto the smoky art school gravitas that’s got them this far unscathed. “If this is heaven, I don’t know what it’s for/ if I can’t find you there, I don’t care,” Win Butler pines, carving out another post-modern romance that’s sure to flood Tumblr with gifs and sparkly fonts. And while his lyricism has always been the band’s secret poison, it’s the song’s twist on ’70s New York art-punk that has us reeling. Producer James Murphy’s penchant for the decade rubs off on “Reflektor”, only there’s no nostalgic aftertaste. It’s a seven-and-a-half minute surge into a dark, mysterious future only the Arcade Fire know for now. We won’t discover exactly what that is for another month and a half, but we’ll be too busy dancing alongside Bowie to care. If only all waiting rooms were this funky, fresh, and hip.