Positively Everything Now

A first-time reviewer sees a lot of good in Arcade Fire’s new album.

When I was asked to review the new Arcade Fire album, Everything Now, I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about it. I like the band, but as an album-reviewer virgin, I wasn’t sure that I wanted an indie–arena rock band to be my “first time.” To say that I’m picky about music would be an understatement. I was also nervous about inspecting a hardworking band’s work—they’re artists who may be just as sensitive to criticism as I am. Upon a quick listen, however, I discovered that there a lot to like about this album, so I decided to pop my cherry and take the assignment.

I’ve followed the Arcade Fire since their 2004 debut, Funeral, which grabbed indie rock by the iPod. Its biggest song, “Wake Up,” might have been the genesis of the “indie chorus” that you now hear in every other sedan commercial. Madison Avenue creatives realized quickly that its positive anthemic quality makes you want to just go out and buy shit. (I know this because I used to make commercial demos, and Arcade Fire would come up almost every time. The irony in this is that I’ve heard that “Kishi Bashi” is mentioned a lot now in those circles, haha.)

Arcade Fire’s subsequent albums, Neon Bible and The Suburbs, garnered more critical and commercial success, and in 2013, they dabbled in more LCD Soundsystem–esque dance sounds when they briefly rebranded themselves “Reflektor” as a publicity stunt for a new album of the same name. Everything Now is a continuation of their electronic soiree that is consistent with their progression, albeit juxtaposing their evolved sound with murkier themes like modern-day desolation, desensitization, and suicide. Interspersed are Japanese “field” recordings, perhaps hinting that they sensed the same urban loneliness that I feel often in Tokyo, despite it being what I imagine as city and society of the future.

The album is co-produced by Thomas Bangalter and Steve Mackey. The former is the “Daft” or “Punk” in Daft Punk, either of which is good enough for me. The latter is the bass player from Pulp, which I consider a solidly talented and groovy UK band. Owen Pallett, whom I know to be a super gifted songwriter/violinist and an early influence to me, is credited as string arranger. As a violinist, I have to admit that I can barely hear the strings. (I’m biased, obviously.)

The album starts off pretty strong and funky (that’s “musician” for danceable). The feel-good title track, “Everything Now,” screams ABBA (although not as loudly as I initially thought when I later went back and actually compared it to “Dancing Queen”), and resounds with emotional claustrophobia as it begins with cries of, “Every inch of sky’s got a star / Every inch of skin’s got a scar.” This song’s even got a Herbie Hancock “Watermelon Man” pygmy-flute riff that I’m sure the drummer squeezed in.

“Signs of Life” is a Bee Gees–esque disco throwback with some ’70s-appropriate talk-rapping. Was Debbie Harry in “The Rapture” the first non-African-American person to do this? Or does it go back to Roger Waters, or Bob Dylan’s talk-singing? Maybe a real music journalist can help me out here…

“Creature Comfort” has a great beat, but, lyrically, swims in deeper waters as it explores a modern girl’s obsession with vanity in the context of Instagram and Snapchat as she contemplates suicide. “God, make me famous / If you can’t, just make it painless.” She’s briefly reassured later that, “It’s not painless / She was a friend of mine.” This references a story that an acquaintance of the band’s was dissuaded from taking their life by listening to their album. On a lighter note, I’d like to shed light on my obsession with neologisms and take this journalistically inappropriate but artistically opportune moment to inject a new word into the modern english language:


/`gram,ləst/ – the intense desire to participate in an activity purely for the purpose of posting a winning picture to social media. “I don’t really want to eat this whale bacon, but when in Japan…” (This actually happened, and everybody was so pissed!) I’ll blame this incident on a case of gramlust.

(And, on a hoppier note, Creature Comforts is the name of a great local brewery here in Athens, GA, where I live, so it took me a while to get that taste out of my mouth before plumbing the darker nature of the lyrics.)

I have to be honest about the next two tracks, “Peter Pan” and “Chemistry.” It takes serious artistic balls to put reggae elements on your music without first securing some rock steady beats. “Peter Pan” is an easy enough song to like, but “Chemistry,” I kind of wish they had made a bonus track. Let’s stay positive!

“Infinite Content” and “Infinite_Content” are two interesting interpretations of the same song—the former, a squashed, but pleasant pop-punk sniff of a half-song, and the latter, a dreamy acoustic ballad that is interesting, but along with the reggae hiccup, make this segment of the album feel as though it would be most fittingly stocked in the eclectic aisle (where I might be shopping anyways).

The album gets back on track with one of my favorite songs, “Electric Blue.” I’m a sucker for that fat, brass synth bass that pops up on the choruses, and Régine Chassagne’s slick vocals (also great on “Creature Comforts”) really propel this song forward and beg for repeat listens.

“Good God Damn” returns to the suicide theme explored in“Creature Comfort.” The mantric line “Maybe there’s a good God, damn” is sewn over a chill beat. I have to admit that the lack of encouragement leaves me slightly unsettled .

“Put Your Money On Me” is another favorite. It’s a cool mid-to-late relationship song with a an analogue synth arpeggiator bass that drives this sad song. “We Don’t Deserve Love” is an appropriate closer isolation and desolate balladry.

This album may not be their most cohesive work, but it’s definitely good. The top two reviews on Google (by popularity perhaps) were by two prominent music blogs that I found to be unnecessarily mean. By the time you finish reading their toxic articles, you could have previewed the album to see if it’s something you might like or not. Uselessly negative reviews are tantamount to trolling, and in this case, they probably function as clickbait to generate ad revenue. Be wary! Let’s stay positive!

A NOTE TO THE ARTISTS: As artists and entertainers, we all strive to be honest with ourselves, and through that effort, we hope to inspire others to connect with our own humanity.  If you are making thousands of people happy every night on tour, or brightening up a particularly bad week for somebody with spirited songs, then you are absolutely doing something right in my book. Great job!

Kishi Bashi is Kaoru Ishibashi’s self-recorded and self-produced project. Ishibashi is a founding member of Jupiter One, and, for a few years, was a member of the band, Of Montreal. His new record, Sonderlust, is out now.

(Photo credit: Shervin Lainez)