Throwback: Arcade Fire - Funeral (2004)

My first encounter with Arcade Fire was their self-titled EP that I stumbled upon while searching through the music section at Barnes and Noble (an obsession of mine before everything was on the internet). I remember thinking how I had never heard anything like it before, especially with the song “I’m Sleeping in a Submarine” where Régine Chassagne sings with an eery quality. Their first full length album, Funeral, is still my favorite. It’s hard to believe that it was released 13 years ago; that’s how old I was when I first heard it. It would be an understatement to say that this album had a profound effect on me. I was just starting to discover music and the many facets of it’s limitless bounds when Funeral caught my attention.

They start out the album with ‘Neighborhood #1(Tunnels),’ by combining strings, heavily distorted guitar, and Win Butler’s signature shaky vocals exhibiting punk-like angst. Arcade Fire has always excelled at putting many unique instruments together in the same setting. They use accordion, an assortment of strings, xylophone, synths, and countless more instruments that you’ve probably never heard of. I honestly think that Funeral is their best and most inventive album (although The Suburbs is a close second).

I’ve always felt like Arcade Fire’s approach to music is truly original, but that’s not to say I love everything they do. It seemed like they were so fresh during this stage that the music has a genuine experimental nature to it; it’s not experimental just for the sake of it. Other notable albums that were released in 2004 include Franz Ferdinand’s Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Sufjan Stevens Seven Swans, and The Go! Team’s Thunder, Lightning, Strike. Funeral stood out amongst all of these superb releases, simply because it has that element of adventure and exploration while also being spot on with catchy melodies.

One thing Arcade Fire does well is embody a song with a strange and spooky aura.  I remember listening to the songs ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’, ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’, and ‘Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)’ and envisioning someone wandering through snowy woods at night. It helps that both Win and Régine are great at making their vocals sound angsty and impassioned. One of the best songs to belt along with is ‘Crown of Love,’ when they cry out “if you still want me, please forgive me, the crown of love, is falling from me.”

Arguably the best track on the album is ‘Rebellion (Lies)’. For many years I had that song as my alarm clock because it inspired me to wake up; “sleeping in is giving in, no matter what the time is.” It’s such a simple arrangement with essentially one note repeated and the same bass melody hitting again and again. Yet, Arcade Fire takes its simplicity and makes it magical with their usual twist. Their level of creativity is notable in so many other songs as well; like in ‘Une Annee Sans Lumiere’ and ‘Haiti’ where Régine sings in french, or ‘In the Backseat’ when her vocals falter, hit flat, and fade out, but her tone is piercing and draws you in.

Another reason I love this album and Arcade Fire: their lyrics. I often catch myself singing along to their songs without really understanding the meaning behind them. The way they combine words is strange at times, but somehow makes perfect sense when they sing them. A couple of my favorite lines:

‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’: ”when daddy comes home, you always start a fight, so the neighbors can dance” (why does that make them dance?)

‘Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)’: “They say a watch-pot won’t ever boil, well I close my eyes and nothing changed, just some water, getting hotter in the flames” (hardly rhymes, but it doesn’t need to!)

Funeral has surprisingly raw production for being on Merge Records. I feel like this style allows the listener to focus more on the feeling behind the music and less on the execution and performance. The dirty electric guitars, choirs singing simple oohs and aahs, and rough quality of the drums blend to create a full and encompassing ambience that gives the audience an intimate and real experience. It still makes me laugh that they went from this raw indie pop album to winning the Grammy for Album of the Year for The Suburbs. I’ll never forget all the angry people the next day: “Who are the suburbs?!”


by Amber Harris

Amber Harris