Review ·

At a glance, the Arcade Fire is a no-brainer. They hail from Montreal, which today evidently equals a Chapel Hill home base in 1995. They have a couple as the main songwriting duo, which, pioneered in the heyday of Sonic Youth, is a theme that seems to be spiraling out of control. They supported the Wrens and Unicorns on tour this spring and summer, touting a self-released EP with packaging that more than resembled the designs used by Neutral Milk Hotel. And, surprise, they get signed to Neutral Milk Hotel's label, Merge Records of Chapel Hill.

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Hype is a hideous bitch goddess, but there's no denying that the Arcade Fire's live performance justifies some anticipation about what the band could become, given a budget and distribution. With Funeral, they have expanded their sound beyond the narrow sonic precincts of their EP and begin to make a name for themselves in the sphere of multi-instrumental indie rock.

Funeral starts off with "Neighborhood #1," which Merge released earlier this summer as a seven-inch single. Slowly building with throbbing piano and guitar, it's the best possible intro to the record's sonic tones. But the band's youthful energy really begins to snowball with "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)," as a drumbeat straight out of indie-rock prep school -- or, say, Superchunk's "The First Part" -- gives way to an infectious guitar hook, then accordion, violin, and vocalist Win Butler shouting the hell out of a story: "Our older brother/ Bit by a vampire/ For a year we caught his tears in a cup." Abstract, yes, but the effect works well; this is what the Decemberists would sound like if Colin Meloy's testicles dropped.

Their zealous punch continues on "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)"; they nail a hook so infectious that James Murphy may double take. Unfortunately, Funeral's middle sags. "Crown of Love," a weepy piano ballad, is a bit obvious after the diverse energy of the first few tracks. The string accompaniment reeks of Bright Eyes's "False Advertising," which may be refreshing if you're an Oberst fan; lyrics like "I carved your name across my eyes" halfway through a record seem juvenile once you've been sold on the band's strength.

At least the guitar kicks in again in "Wake Up," where a grandiose, gospel-like chant backs up Butler's plea: "Children, wake up/ Hold your mistake up/ Before they turn the summer into dust!" It sounds like the Polyphonic Spree, but free of that saccharine, freaky cult vibe. And when least expected, the song cuts into Wham!-like drums and piano breakdown -- think George Michael and the other guy dancing with their "Choose Life!" T-shirts. Shifts like this sum this record up -- it comes out of nowhere but makes perfect sense.

  • Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
  • Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
  • Une Annee Sans Lumiere
  • Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)
  • Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)
  • Crown Of Love
  • Wake Up
  • Haiti
  • Rebellion (Lies)
  • The Backseat
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