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Children, Wake Up: Arcade Fire’s Funeral at 10

on September 15, 2014, 12:00am
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Funeral is very much alive. Though the sentiment has become a bit of a cliche, it’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since the release of Arcade Fire’s Funeral. The album showed up fully formed and with an immediate impact, a powerful expression of emotion and grandiosity in the face of the post-punk and garage rock scene. However, it also rang with the power and dark echoes of the past and continues to resonate in that same vital way.

Part of that could be due to the fact that death looms large over Funeral, a perpetually impactful and present life experience. Regine Chassagne and Win and Will Butler lost grandparents in the process of recording the album, and an aunt of Richard Reed Parry’s passed as well. The pains of an entire neighborhood, a family, a country, and the world all ring out throughout the album’s 10 tracks.

But there was (and is) more to Funeral than darkness. The uplifting orchestration, the feeling of community, and the massively memorable sing-along choruses all work together to combat it. Arcade Fire would go on to win a Grammy, collaborate with music legends, tour stadiums, and have an incredible impact for an “indie” band. But in 2004, Funeral already had this transformative power. It was an honest, emotional album that wasn’t quite emo; an elaborate, detailed album with a deceptively simple, direct punch; an album defined by death yet still able to find life on the other side. And, 10 years later, it’s still all of those things despite its legendary status, an album as fresh as the day it was released. To commemorate this anniversary, we took a look at a key lyric from each of the album’s tracks, in order to analyze the way in which it continues to hold that enchanting power.

“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)”

“As the day grows dim/ I hear you sing a golden hymn/ The song I’ve been trying to sing.”

That timelessness emerges as soon as Butler sings of a mythic, golden hymn in “Neighborhood #1”. While Funeral rang true immediately as a sort of mythically ever-present truth, this hymn is something that’s been inside him all along, a song he’s been trying to call into existence. The song he hears in the lyrics is alchemical, a tune sung to combat the encroaching darkness of night, changing the simple lead inside his head into gold. From the start, Funeral had that same function: a shining beacon that was inside each listener all along, unlocked and activated in order to find beauty and light even in dark days. –Adam Kivel

“Neighborhood #2 (Laika)”

“Our mother shoulda just named you Laika/ It’s for your own good/ It’s for the neighborhood!”

“Neighborhood #2 (Laika)” explicitly introduces the theme of community that had already been numerically introduced and runs throughout the album, and this line specifically ties into Arcade Fire’s role in uniting that community. Beyond the strangely vampiric story of older brother Alexander, the song repeatedly connects to Laika, the Soviet space dog who was the first animal to orbit the Earth. Sure, Laika was shot into space on a great adventure, one that would be for the good of science and the Soviet Union, but there was never any intention of the dog surviving the experience. Similarly, Arcade Fire shot into the stratosphere, out circling the Earth (albeit on the road instead of an interstellar orbit), for the good of “the neighborhood” of listeners. –Adam Kivel

“Une année sans lumière”

“If you see a shadow/ There’s something there.”

Funeral was birthed in pain and darkness, coming to life only after the deaths of multiple band members’ relatives, but resulted in power, catharsis, and goodness. “Une Anne Sans Lumiere” examines the way in which even darkness can be proof of existence; the shadow is darkness, but there has to be light in the first place to cause a shadow. Moreover, the light has to be hitting something to cause the shadow; though we might just see a patch of darkness, that just means that there has to be “something there” to cause it. The pain and loss that influenced Funeral exists only because there was a good thing there first, and in turn the darkness revealed the beauty of the album. The use of French throughout this song and others is also important, a sign of their ability to reach beyond borders like language and develop larger connections, even on their debut. –Adam Kivel

“Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)”

“And the power’s out in the heart of man/ Take it from your heart put in your hand.”

Ever wondered how many times a person has sung the beginning guitar riffs of this song? Or any non-verbal cues from Arcade Fire for that matter? It must far surpass the actual singing of correct lyrics; well, at least that’s the case here. This song goes back and forth like this: dununh-nuhnuhnuh-dununh-nuhnuhnuh. I know! You sang it in your head, too. It’s a blessing and a curse. The most alluring thing about them is how their music is both accessible and emotive; it seems to metronome from uplifting epitomes to melancholic ideals easily. Here, the words sting and screech from his mouth with the same spirit plied from every instrument. On the one hand, there’s a tension between inciting a visceral response from the listener, and on the other hand, the music is used as a means of communicating ideas, be they screams, words, or snare kicks. As though the lyrics can’t be understood without a strong mouthpiece of instruments first establishing themselves. From the first clang of guitar, it pierces into the anthemic rhythm section so quickly that when it rallies with Win Butler’s scream, it bashes your shoulders back.

The song acts as an unadulterated exploration in self-reflection and growth. When he sings, “And the power’s out in the heart of man/ Take it from your heart, put it in your hand,” Butler’s tackling the concept of death, but with the burning undertones of camaraderie and how important it is to cultivate. Even if a person feels hopeless (the power out), perhaps all they need is to take their pain from their heart and see it from a different perspective, with the help of a friend or loved one. It’s romantic to think the hand symbolizes giving, so that when the heart feels dark and raw, the only way to turn on the light is to give of yourself, and soon the power within will turn on. There’s a profound sense of sadness in the questions “Is it a dream; Is it a lie?”, which Butler provides solace for: “I think I’ll let you decide.” –Lior Phillips

“Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)”

“Just like a seed down in the soil/ You gotta give it time.”

“Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)” is both fidgety and dense, light and stirring, which reveals just how much Arcade Fire seem like writers incapable of getting to the end of a song without proving that they are all, in some capacity, beyond human. They arrived on the scene fully formed with “Neighborhood #1”, planting a seed with a sound so unique that it sprouts and blooms all the way up to this halfway mark — the very core of Funeral’s gut. Each root of sound encircles around the next song, blossoming as the album progresses. How fitting, then, for Butler to sing, “Just like a seed down in the soil/ You gotta give it time,” because even if the song’s innards are filled with dark imagery, as you give it more time it only grows stronger, creating enough vibrating momentum to inhabit a well-rounded pursuit of a decidedly fresh musical vision. This song is a heart-stopping spot of quiet panic, fluttering with washes of groaning violins and slow burning over acoustic plucks with uncanny ease. This stylistic frisson and shared willingness to explore such tension and introspection is one of the greatest strengths of Funeral, each song enriching the other. –Lior Phillips

“Crown of Love”

“I carved your name across my eyelids/ You pray for rain, I pray for blindness.”

So, we might no longer have the excuse of “a lack of stimulation” within our reach 10 years later, but the human vocabulary of confusion, tedium, and temptation when it comes to love is not passing us by just yet. It always leads us to the following question: What is it exactly that we are always searching for? “Crown of Love” finds the band fanned by a string arrangement so archetypically Arcade Fire-y that the song’s appeal is so purposefully disarming and so delicately heart-crushing. It’s utterly beautiful. Butler has taken you out of this world and supported us all by the weight of his grief. With every sonic swell, the piano presses with tethered intent until a gut-wrenching release just before the four-minute mark. The rapture erupts into a pulsing harmony of vocals, instruments, and interjections. He’s asking for forgiveness here, the kind of musical shriving fit for the body and soul. “If you still want me, please forgive me” reveals this lyrical poet pouring his earnestness out at every verse. There’s no turning back; this song possesses far richer ways of expression within its more subtle and enchanting melody, which translates a shifting moment in the mood of the album and the listener. Perhaps you’re reminded of your own personal quest for love. Perhaps when he sings, “I carved your name across my eyelids/ You pray for rain, I pray for blindness,” the pain feels so excruciating. He’d rather succumb to being numb and blinded instead. What indie band would be confident enough to put a song on their debut as experimental, emotional, and condemning as this one? Well, that’s easy, isn’t it? It’s the sort that rises above and outside of genres in order to create their very own realm. A crowning moment. –Lior Phillips

“Wake Up”

“Children, wake up/ Hold your mistake up.”

This bloody song. This lump in your throat, pounding at your heart, hair-raising song. It feels marginally biblical, doesn’t it? So jarring that the sound itself levitates above its own ground, soaring toward a gravitas that became the true awakening for Arcade Fire, a linchpin to Funeral. A song so relevant and ginormous, 10 years down the line, that yeah, “You better look out below!” Melodically, it’s a masterpiece, and the track ostentatiously sits in its own indie rock enterprise. You feel awake, high around the edges because its perimeter occupies a space so positively maudlin and inescapably thought-provoking that it makes you recognize the healing properties of the band’s undiluted sincerity.

The Arcade Fire vision feels realised here: the sound of a ringing wake-up call for us to breathe, live, and see what stands staring back at us, be it our own reflection or the weight of the world. When the frantic textures roar between guitar chords and Bulter’s tearing voice, it’s all somehow so rock and roll, the dense drumming framing togetherness in the grasp for fresh air — the hint of what a world awake might look like. The glory behind this is that it’s the essence of Funeral and the EP that came a year before it compressed into one unabashedly sprawling, five-plus-minute song. At its core, there’s the innocent plea for cognitive love and facing one’s fears in spite of unyielding personal/universal chaos. “Children, wake up/ Hold your mistake up,” Butler sings, urging us between the twanging guitar clatters to fire through our mistakes and accept life with all its flaws.  –Lior Phillips

“Haiti”

“All the tears and all the bodies/ Bring about our second birth.”

The darkness and pain that spawned the album aren’t just personal, but an empathetic connection to a whole history of pain, the pain of an entire country. While Regine Chassagne’s parents fled Haiti during the brutal reign of president Francois Duvalier, the song feels the pain of an entire army of dead children (“Tous les morts-nes forment une armee”) and describes fleeing the regime’s soldiers vividly and impressionistically, as if Chassagne had been there herself and seen it in flashes and bursts through a child’s eyes, then worked them out as an adult. Once again, Arcade Fire point out that through “all the tears” and death, there will still be a “second birth,” a hope for an entire country. And that hope isn’t half-hearted. Arcade Fire have brought awareness to the state of Haiti and given a great deal of support to non-profit Partners in Health throughout their career, an organization that brings medical aid to the poor of the country. –Adam Kivel

“Rebellion (Lies)”

People say that your dreams are the only things that save ya/ Come on baby in our dreams/ We can live our misbehavior.

“Rebellion (Lies)” is both the first song by Arcade Fire that made me cry from joy and the song that I showed to friends in order lure them in. The spotlight shines atop the keys of the piano and asks us to face life’s fleeting nature, and in doing so, feel liberated from the clutch of impending death. It cracks open with a gesture toward rock anthems, soaring into a nostalgic, choral hook. Each tonal element jumps off of the other: the seemingly innocuous arrangement of bass, the piano tuned to one penetrating key signalling a warning, the sputter of strings, in headphones at least, and the electric guitars coming through the one ear and clapping with every beat of the drum through the other. Sure, at this point it seems unnecessary to make a note of this track’s visionary, almost immaculately intricate harmony, but there’s this self-aware sense of optimism in the sound that’s automatically liberating.

The song’s real narrative carries the listener through the band’s emotional journey to find a place to live the exact way they want to, to dream without sleeping or closing their eyes to reality. It’s sold by the bursting of acoustic ostinatos, the iterations of “But every time you close your eyes, lies!” burn right through pitch-wrangling strings and shredding. I think our generation’s posture stood the same 10 years ago. We’ve somehow lost the ability to dream as vividly as we should, so to revisit this song now feels even more crucial. In addition, it introduces the next track, “In the Backseat”, by asking us to be in a constant state of wonder, rebelling against the normal hodgepodge of society’s accepted reality and questioning our inherent truth. –Lior Phillips

“In the Backseat”

“I’ve been learning to drive/ My whole life.”

There’s a beautiful childishness in living life in the backseat, watching things pass, not having to be in control or take responsibility. And on “In the Backseat”, Chassagne delivers her vocals in the same sort of dreamy childlike way that Bjork does, through an expressive, magical wash of strings. But once she introduces the topic of her mother, Alice, dying, the leaves of the family tree falling off, she takes that huge chorus asserting herself; sitting in the backseat might’ve seemed like passivity, but she’s been learning that whole time for when it’s her turn, learning what to do when she has to be in the driver’s seat, an adult in control. Her emotionally salient, powerful insistence in the song’s final chorus ends the album on a final insistence that despite all the pain the world can levy, we’re all learning how to drive, hopefully ready to take the wheel whenever the time comes. . –Adam Kivel

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