Archive for April, 2013

The Suburbs: ‘Empty Room’

Said your name in an empty room
Something I would never do, I’m alone again
When I’m by myself I can be myself

And my life is coming but I don’t know when

You were burning, now you’re black and gray
Something I would never say, I’m alone again
When I’m by myself I can be myself
And my life is coming but I don’t know when

 Toute ma vie, est avec toi, moi j’attends, toi tu pars
(All my life
is with you, I wait, you leave yourself)

To be honest, this is the song on The Suburbs I usually have few qualms about skipping in a listening session. A big reason behind that is that I think Regine’s voice gets kind of lost in the mix, and there isn’t really enough of a tune to keep me listening.
Lyrically, I have no idea what the ‘empty room’ is referring to. Some have suggested that the lines about “black and gray” is the singer burning a picture of a lost love; others say the burning person was a victim of one of the many acts of destruction throughout the album. I can kind of see how either one could be the case, but I need more than two lines to know for sure: Empty Room contains about half as many words as Rococo, but where that song was dense with coherent ideas supported by each verse, there just isn’t much to chew on in this song.

All I can really infer from the scant verses is something about the pressures of public versus private life, how we’re different people at work than we are at home—why can’t we be free to be ourselves all of the time?—and something about a directionless life (not knowing when one’s life will arrive).

One thing I am sure of about this song is that I’m glad it’s the shortest one on the album, so…how ’bout a cute picture of everybody’s favorite Quebecois?


The Suburbs: ‘Rococo’

This is one of those songs (one of several on The Suburbs) that begs the question “how many ideas can you pack into a pop song and still have it remain a great piece of music”? In this case, a helluva lot; considering the fact that its chorus is a single repeated word and that the verses contain less than 115 words, this is an especially dense song.

Let’s go downtown and watch the modern kids
Let’s go downtown and talk to the modern kids
They will eat right out of your hand
Using great big words that they don’t understand

As we’ll see later in Sprawl II, we have to go downtown to observe this breed of millennial youth, because after growing up in the suburbs, these kids have been forced to move into the city to find their own kind. They’re probably educated (from a liberal arts institution, I’d guess), and they try to sound educated with their vocabulary of big GRE words. That third line, combined with the cooing sound of the chorus, makes me wonder if Butler isn’t equating these modern kids with pigeons…

They say, ‘Rococo, rococo, rococo, rococo…’

They build it up just to burn it back down
The wind is blowing all the ashes around
Oh my dear God, what is that horrible song they’re singing?

This verse brings back more of that conflagration-language from Neon Bible, as well as probable connections to Month of May that we’ll examine in more depth in that song’s entry.

They seem wild but they are so tame
They’re moving towards you with their colors all the same
They want to own you but they don’t know the game they’re playing…

Some have charged that Rococo as a whole (and the song’s final verse in particular) seems to hammer pretty hard on what many would identify as modern ‘hipster’ or ‘indie’ culture, and I’ll admit it’s easy to see why. Funeral– and Neon Bible-era Arcade Fire was almost universally embraced by the exact folks the band sang about (millennial kids raised in the suburbs), but when the band won their Grammy for The Suburbs, suddenly they had become ‘mainstream’—and since hipster culture is chiefly concerned with consuming media from origins of obscurity up to the point it becomes ‘cool’—and the kids who had made the band popular in the first place started jumping ship on charges of ‘selling out’.
I don’t think that the band is being too hard on these ‘ironic’ White kids in this song, but I am grateful that somebody with ‘indie cred’ has finally held up a mirror to these kids so that they might see that they’re just another cog in the Machine.
In this album’s conceptual framework, ‘wild’ is equated with the uncivilized and the anti-suburban; why then, if these kids seem so wild, are they really tame?
Indie media-outlet Pitchfork astutely describes the kids in Rococo as “a certain type of pseudo-rebellious, cynical youth” (emphasis mine). What keeps these plaid-clad masses from being truly rebellious is that these kids’ rebellion itself is a product of the corporate cool-hunt commoditized and sold right back to them. As long as they seek to define themselves by the products they buy, they are enabling the System to continue.

As another uncommonly-discerning, deserves-to-be-quoted-in-full SongMeanings user observed,
“It saddens me this song is being reduced to some “nana-nana-boo-boo” towards the hipster culture. This is a beautiful band, not only because their songs are big, but so seem to be their ideas and their hearts. This is a band that seems to love humanity too much to waste their time with some petty, hipster, turf-war anthem.
This song is not condemning youth, but feeling empathy and sympathy for them, no matter what music they listen to. They are being promoted an empty lifestyle of materialism and worshiping of the self. This promotion is a “dangerous game” being played [by] those selling it, because they are selling the soul of western-culture.
People are separated into tribes, based on hip-hop, country, pop, emo, etc.[“now the music divides us into tribes” (Suburban War)], but they are all being sold an empty road map for a vain and disconnected society where the most important person is the self. …
This is being sold by “wild” people, like Lady Gaga, but she is not Lady Gaga, but actually a rather “tame” woman from the Bronx. Lady Gaga is a McDonald’s version of the club kid scene, “downtown”, in places like New York City. I use Gaga as one example, but think of how many popular songs in any genre today are just commercials for the person singing them and an empty, materialistic lifestyle that goes along with it. They are commercials for the self and [have] nothing to do with how the self relates to others.
Also, the songs are usually meaningless at their core. Just some babble that is like an rated-R nursery rhyme. Yet no one is stopping to ask what it all means, when the answer would be: Nothing.
So, Arcade Fire chooses a seemingly gibberish phrase to use for their chorus in this song, yet if you look into its meaning, it actually describes most of popular music. Most popular music is just a disgusting effigy to the artist singing. So, modern popular music could be defined as “rococo art”.
They are saying they are trying to give you something, trying to send a message, and therefore, make a connection with anyone willing to listen.  (wastedhours, Song Meanings)

In the end, the album’s “first truly menacing song” (and the album’s first act) closes with screeching, apocalyptic feedback over a lone harpsichord picking out the chords, likely to connect this song to its namesake art-period.

The Suburbs: ‘Modern Man’

So I wait in line, I’m a modern man
And the people behind me, they can’t understand
Makes me feel like…like something don’t feel right
Like a record that’s skipping, I’m a modern man
And the clock keeps ticking, I’m a modern man
Makes me feel like, makes me feel like

This, according to Butler, is what it means to be a ‘modern man’: an adulthood wasted spent standing in line day in, day out like a skipping record (shades of Groundhog Day?).
In this haze of undifferentiated days, we keep getting older (the clock keeps ticking), we can’t sleep, and we’re increasingly emotionally disconnected. Worst of all, we’re troubled by the feeling that something don’t feel right:
“…you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.”

In my dream I was almost there
Then you pulled me aside and said, “You’re going nowhere”
They say we are the chosen few but we’re wasted
And that’s why we’re still waiting on a number from the modern man…

When I was seventeen, I was selected to be in my state’s ‘Governor’s Scholar’ program (we liked to joke that GSP stood for ‘government-sponsored procreation’, and that the program existed to help smart kids hook up to improve the gene pool and prevent brain-drain, or something). Throughout the program, we were continually told that we were the ‘best and brightest’ of our generation. Maybe they were right; maybe in another life we really could be the best and brightest, if it weren’t for the fact that the adulthood we were being groomed for was the one designed to turn us into the timeclock zombies Butler describes in this song.

Maybe when you’re older you will understand
Why you don’t feel right, why you can’t sleep at night now?
In line for a number but you don’t understand, like a modern man

Here we see again the theme of growing older being linked to this kind of numb, insomniac existence; the converse of this notion is that childhood must be the time when we’re truly alive, vibrant and full of energy and unaware of the passage of time, which is pretty much true.

Oh, I had a dream I was dreaming
And I feel I’m losing the feeling
Makes me feel like something don’t feel right
I erase the number of the modern man
Want to break the mirror of the modern man
Makes me feel like, makes me feel like

In my dream I was almost there
Then you pulled me aside and said, “You’re going nowhere”
I know we are the chosen few but we’re wasted
And that’s why we’re still waiting in line for a number but you don’t understand – like a modern man

And if you feel so right, how come you can’t sleep at night?
In line for a number but you don’t understand – like a modern man
I’m a modern man

If you ever need a clear visual of the modern man, take a look outside your nearest temple of Apple the day before the release of their next major gizmo. There you’ll see a generation of young people content to stand in line, to try and assuage the barely-suppressed gut feeling that “something don’t feel right” by buying ever more shiny gadgetry.

The Suburbs: ‘Ready to Start’

Since Arcade Fire is a serious “album band” and this is a serious concept album, Ready to Start begins—or, erm, starts—with a fade-in from the previous track, the first of five such segues on The Suburbs that tie the songs together. Now we hear the driving rhythm that matches my musical expectations—based on a vague, cultural-osmosis kind of awareness—of Arcade Fire. Next time you listen to this track, take note of the effect—I can only describe it as an “amping up” sound—buried in the mix that starts around 00:16, followed by a kind of feedback that drops out immediately before Win’s vocals come in at 00:30 (the effect is much more prominent in the Damian Taylor remix of the song). Combined with the progressive layering of the instruments, this almost-subliminal sound contributes volumes to the anticipatory nature of the rest of the song.

If the businessmen drink my blood
Like the kids in art school said they would
Then I guess I’ll just begin again
You say, “Can we still be friends?”

The lyrics open with a reference to blood-sucking businessmen—perhaps symbolizing a fear of “selling out”—whom our singer was warned about by those art student Kids. As Win has explained, “…the feeling of Ready to Start came from going to art school and meeting a lot of people who had really defined political ideas and rules about art. But I just wanted to make something in the world and worry about the rest of it later and not get too caught up in rules.” (Oh god, I sound like an art school kid!)
The ‘fear of selling out’ theme will return in earnest a few tracks later on City With No Children.

All the kids have always known that the emperor wears no clothes
But they bow down to him anyway—
It’s better than being alone

In this stanza we get deep into the conceptual meat of The Suburbs. Even though ‘us kids know’  these truths in our guts—that the king “is just a windbag in fancy clothes” (The Story of B, 263), or that the emperor is naked (the unpleasant reality that the adults don’t want to see)—we are compelled to suppress our instincts (for freedom, human connection, &c.) so that we can lead a ‘normal’ life; the Kids grow up continuing to bow down to the king, and so he maintains control over them, while the very few that don’t bow down are alienated.
I’m reminded at this point of Chapter 2.2 of Ishmael:

“Once you learn to discern the voice of Mother Culture humming in the background…you’ll never stop being conscious of it. Wherever you go for the rest of your life, you’ll be tempted to say to the people around you, ‘How can you listen to this stuff and not recognize it for what it is?’ And if you do this, people will look at you oddly and wonder what the devil you’re talking about. In other words, if you [learn to recognize the world for what it is/stop bowing down to the emperor/take the red pill &c.], you’re going to find yourself alienated from the people around you—friends, family, past associates, and so on” (37).

I think there’s a similar conceptual tie to ideas reflected in The Lottery in this verse: specifically, the notion that ideas of cultural change always originate with young people. Like the naked emperor, it’s a scary notion because it’s true. If you want to shift a culture in a new direction, you don’t direct your appeal at the current generation of parents, you direct it at their children.

Now you’re knocking at my door
Saying “Please come out with us tonight
But I would rather be alone than pretend I feel alright

The singer’s friends want him to come out on the town with them, but he would prefer not to. And why does he not? Linking this to the previous verse is that key word alone. By going out with his friends (i.e., not being alone), he will be bowing down to the naked emperor and pretending everything in the world is hunky-dory, even if—as an intelligent, introspective man with an open mind—he knows it’s not. Or, as a uncharacteristically-perceptive user on the website SongMeanings observed,

“This is the most clear statement Butler makes in the song. He is explicitly saying that he does not wish to comply with this societal pressure to exist on such a plane of superficiality. He doesn’t wish to mask his pain and inadequacy behind a drunken night with friends or a numbing outing. He has no intention of softening life’s blow, like so much of society is designed to accomplish. Butler wants to actually feel what this world deals each and every one of us, not to hide in an illusory refuge of friendship.”

If I was scared, I would and if I was bored, you know I would/
If I was scared, I would and if I was pure, you know I would
And if I was yours, but I’m not, now I’m ready to start
I would rather be wrong than live in the shadows of your song
My mind is open wide and now I’m ready to start,
You’re not sure, you open the door and step out into the dark, now I’m ready

As for the refrain, I have little to say. Our singer, while neither scared, bored, or pure, is also apparently not loved by somebody (he’s not the “yours” of a special someone). Isn’t it funny how completely incomprehensible writing about ephemeral concepts like affection can be….
Also, note the identically-phrased “I would rather be ___ than _____” lines. Does he mean to connect being alone and being wrong, versus feeling alright and living “in the shadows of your song”? As we see later in Suburban War, our singer has been living ‘in the shadows of your song’, which means…what? The singer has been right? Has been wrong? About what?

And at last, as we leave the comfort of our familiar doorway for the darkness of the Wild, we can begin our journey through The Suburbs.

The Suburbs: ‘The Suburbs’

In the suburbs I learned to drive
And you told me we’d never survive
Grab your mother’s keys we’re leaving

Three words in and we’re already knee-deep in the ’burbs; the singer relates how he gained that all-important skill for postwar civilized life—driving—in the cul-de-sacs and tract housing that is The Suburbs.
One must wonder on what grounds it was believed they wouldn’t survive in the ’burbs?, because our Mother Culture’s conventional wisdom is that the ’burbs are a great place to live. Regardless, if they’re not going to survive (maybe because the system the suburbs are built upon is inherently unsustainable and unsurvivable?), they’re getting out.
We haven’t seen the last of this sublime little triplet of a verse, and it will show up again—with some subtly powerful changes—around the halfway point of the album. Start checking off those keyword themes, kids: twenty words in and we’ve already touched on a place (the suburbs), driving, and Escape.

You always seemed so sure that one day we’d be fighting in a suburban war,
Your part of town against mine.
I saw you standing on the opposite shore
But by the time the first bombs fell, we were already bored.

The second verse introduces what is probably this album’s biggest connection to Neon Bible, ominous war imagery. As the album’s first scene, Scenes From the Suburbs covers this concisely in the first thirty seconds as our heartsick narrator explains, “There was always some sort of conflict going on…towns would attack each other if a golf course was built too close to a border, or if a shopping center gave off too much light pollution…”.
As to why they “were already bored”, your guess is as good as mine. I’ll say it was something to do with millennial emotional numbness and desensitivity as a result of overexposure to hyperviolent mass media.

The kids want to be so hard
But in my dreams we’re still screaming
And running through the yard
When all of the walls that they built in the ’70’s finally fall,
And all of the houses they built in the ’70’s finally fall
Meant nothing at all?
It meant nothing…

Ah-ha, our first mention of The Kids! They want to be tough, because our Mother Culture tells them that’s how they should be, to bury their feelings deep down? However, despite their attempts “to be so hard”, they’re still screaming in dreams. What kind of screaming is it—fearful (the bombs are falling, remember?) or existentially frustrated (the suburbs are a stultifying environment for restless youth)?
And what of the walls and houses from the Seventies? Are they falling due to the bombs, or due to abandoned decay, or are they only metaphor for things that keep us from connecting with each other?

Sometimes I can’t believe it
I’m moving past the feeling
And into the night

We move on to the falsetto refrain, possibly restating a sentiment of emotional deadness. But now our singer is moving into the night. The harsh orange glare from the sodium-vapour streetlights doesn’t penetrate into that shadowy area, so why go there? Perhaps that is the reason for the attraction?: as we will see, “in the Night there is something Wild”, out of reach of the civilizing grasp of the Suburbs.

So can you understand
Why I want a daughter while I’m still young?
I want to hold her hand, and show her some beauty,
Before all this damage is done.
But it it’s too much to ask, then send me a son.

In this verse we hear another motif from Neon Bible, the request for a child. Note, however, that the reason for the request has evolved from its previous, exploitative iteration—
“Oh God, would you send me a child?/Because I want to put it up on the TV screen/So the world can see what your true word means/Lord, won’t you send me a sign?/Because I just got to know if I’m wasting my time” (Antichrist Television Blues)—to the entirely healthier appeal of the above verse. Believing that “damage” (read: destruction) is looming (in the form of the World War mentioned in Windowsill and City With No Children, or in the violent collapse of the suburban/civilized system?), he wants to show his daughter at least something nice before it all goes up in flames.

Under the overpass, in the parking lot, we’re still waiting
It’s already passed
So move your feet from hot pavement and into the grass
Cause it’s already passed!

Our final verse gives us vignettes in the first line—visualized in SFTS
of the Kids killing time in the Sprawl. It’s hard to tell (Butler’s lyrics jump around from past to present tense and back again), but I suppose the first two lines could be the singer looking back narrating the scene of his youth—“Look at us, wasting hours, waiting for our lives to begin”—with that third line directed at his past self, essentially saying, “Get out!”
Here one wonders what is “already passed” that makes the singer implore us to step off the asphalt and onto the cool green? Is it that the time of the suburbs itself is passed, and it’s time to imagine a different way to organize ourselves and form communities, one that is more organic and better-suited to humans? Or that we should first simply seek out the organic and discover the new way on our own? Either way, these closing lines seem to direct us to get out of the concrete jungle and into the Wild.

‘The Suburbs’: Context & Composition

The Suburbs is (the) Arcade Fire’s third full-length album, and it continues to build on the themes of their EP and previous albums, especially 2007’s Neon Bible—so much so that it really seems a bit like a sequel or side-quel to that record.
In fact, the idea of successive sidequels continuing to explore deeper facets of an original’s theme reminds me of the life’s work of another Houstonite, Daniel Quinn, whose writings could (from a certain point of view) be interpreted to deal with the same issues as Arcade Fire (such as calls for change in how we relate to our communities; escape from the world in its present form; and imminent environmental destruction). I wonder if the Brothers Butler have read any Quinn?

But where Neon Bible seemed to focus on a cultural and environmental collapse/apocalypse brought on by the potent overlap of politics, overconsumption, religion, and television (which is to say, it’s an album about Right Now), The Suburbs dials down the doom to zoom in a bit.
While it’s entirely possible that both albums occupy the same universe, this time around, the story—while set against a backdrop of suburban war—is more intimate, focusing on a Millennial generation of nostalgic, dissatisfied Young People—alienated by technology and the sterile uniformity of their modern surroundings—yearning for a rewarding way of life outside the Sprawl.
Hopefully I haven’t scared anyone off with that serious description, but it’s just as deathly topical as its predecessor.

To provide comparisons as we start our examination of this album, I’m going to be relating examples from my previous favorite concept album (Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness), partially because they’re surprisingly similar in presentation, and partially because I’ve invested so much time studying that double-LP monster over the years it would seem like a waste if I didn’t.

So, for starters, both albums begin with an atypical-sounding first track or two. I have to wonder what the first ’Pumpkins fans to hear MCIS in 1995—expecting something similar to the swirling guitar layers of Siamese Dream—thought upon hearing the piano/synth and orchestral strings of those first two tracks (the ’Pumpkins’ signature sound would return in spades by MCIS’s third track); similarly, the splash of cymbals and the deceptively cheerful piano line that opens The Suburbs might’ve surprised Arcade Fire fans, although I suspect they’re smart enough to understand the band’s penchant for making songs in a wide variety of styles.

Since we’re talking about arrangement, I feel I should—even though I promise I’ll discuss it later as part of this series—draw attention to Scenes from The Suburbs at this point, specifically how Spike Jonze rearranges the album’s tracks to great effect to open his film.
As exciting an opening as those splashy cymbals on The Suburbs are, they sound way better when preceded by sorrowful narration and the melancholy strings of an extended version of The Suburbs Continued (the album’s coda track).
Hey kids!, just for fun, next time you listen to the album, try playing that reprise as the first track. Pretty cool, huh?
So, compositionally-speaking, this opening title track functions as an overture or prologue, containing concentrated versions of the album’s themes. The next song will open the programme proper (MCIS’s first ‘scene’, jellybelly, begins with the words, “Welcome to nowhere fast”; while after its prologue, The Suburbs launches with Ready to Start, a song that would be a perfect album-opener by nature of its musical composition, title, and lyrics).
The songs that follow will explore the themes first broached in the prologue, reaching an emotional climax about halfway through the album (Muzzle for MCIS; Suburban War for The ‘burbs), and ending the album with a Reprise of the main theme, which acts as ‘end titles’ for the listening experience.

Said title track (or in the case of MCIS, the second track, since the title track is instrumental) contains concentrated versions of most of the key themes examined in the course of the album (and in a larger sense, in all of Arcade Fire’s works). While there is some significant overlap for several of them (due to exploration of dichotomies, for instance—all coins having two sides, to be able to discuss something like the Wild without being aware at least on some level of its opposite would be an impressive feat of Orwellian thought), in their distilled forms the album’s themes may be classified thusly (in no particular order):

  • children/childhood/youth/adolescence
  • nostalgia for said carefree times ^ (the “wasted hours”)
  • Millennial Young People of today (“the Kids”)
  • music/singing/screaming
  • modernity/recent history
  • Place: Cities/Downtown/the Sprawl/Towns/the Suburbs/Home
  • one’s connection to said locales^, (especially issues that arise when said locales^ change)
  • roads and driving (inherent in our relationship to said modern locales^)
  • Destruction (either in the form of War, or another nonspecific source, and often of said locales^)
  • Technology (and its effect on the speed of life), and waiting (as metaphor for a slower-paced life)
  • alienation (often as a result of said technology)
  • authority figures with ‘power’ (emperors, kings, soldiers, police, &c.)
  • tribalism
  • insomnia/sleeping/dreaming
  • Escape
  • the “Wild” (often represented by “the Night”, used as a catch-all term for the natural/organic/uncivilized)

In fact, if someone asked me to further hyper-refine The Suburbs in 25 words, I’d say it is about ‘the dichotomy between Civilization/The Wild (and all that go along with both), explored from the vantage point of Young People in the early 21st century.’
But of course, that’s coming from someone with an anthropology/anarcho-primitivist background. Hell, as Win sings on Culture War, “You see what you want to see.”

Pretty heavy stuff, huh?

‘The Suburbs’: Coming Soon

With the TV season more-or-less concluded, I’m going to be spending the off-season reposting topical pieces from my pop-media blog before I shut it down. Expect ‘new’ posts every couple of days or so for the next couple of months.
I don’t usually go for disposable pop ditties, one-hit wonders (unless it’s summertime, in which case all bets are off), or anyone you would find on a shirt sold at Hot Topic. I’m also not into finding the most obscure entertainment possible. I like mainstream books and music and film, but only if it’s quality stuff that I can return to, study, and internalize: I figure that with so little in common with most folks, I need something relatable to talk about.
Because having things in context (historical, chronological, or whatever) helps me see t­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­he bigger picture and thereby understand things better, I’m going to set this up with an abridged version of my personal musical journey.

Y’know, it’s funny how albums come into our lives at just the right time. When I was like, thirteen—after hearing references to Stairway to Heaven for years—I finally dug out my folks’ copy of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. I sat down, spun it, and for the first time, really deliberately listened to a record. It was absolutely perfect timing, because it tied into all the Tolkien I was diving into, and probably saved me from the waves of generic nu-metal and raprock bands (and their fans) that were inundating my school and the airwaves around that time. After a childhood spent listening to artists like CSNY and James Taylor with my parents, Led Zep was my first musical foray out into the wider world, becoming the first well-regarded band I could call my own, helping me keep my head above water at least long enough for me to properly cultivate my musical tastes.

Even though I was somewhat familiar with it through mid-‘90s osmosis, it wasn’t until I was eighteen, right before I graduated high school, that I got ahold of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (yet again, I don’t think I’ve ever been able to really get into an album that’s been forced on me: it has to be an independent, organic—and sometimes serendipitous—discovery).
So, MCIS, the album that would see me through college? A loose concept album dealing with themes of fear of change and loss of youth, wrapped up in trippy Victoriana? Perfect for an undergrad with steam on the brain. Though it was probably the third concept album I’d listened to (after Sgt. Pepper’s and Ayreon’s The Dream Sequencer), the little call-backs between songs, the recurring motifs, and the visual style of the whole project really pulled me in. As a result, there were a couple of years where, if I was going to be in the car for two or—factoring in all the b-sides—three hours, it was a safe bet that Mellon Collie would be spinning in my Discman.

During my senior year, I somehow stumbled on the common thread between the other band that got me through junior high—Nirvana—and the Pumpkins: Courtney Love. Building on my penchant for 1990s female musicians, but needing something with a little more bite than the womyn of the Lilith Fair set, I quickly latched onto Hole, and soon along came Liz Phair, PJ Harvey, Veruca Salt, and the like.

Fast-forward: a year out of undergrad, after drifting around taking seasonal jobs here and there and watching about three-fourths of my friends get married in less than a year, I happened upon Regine Chassagne wailing about dead shopping malls and cutting the lights on SNL. Of course, it would figure that my introduction to Arcade Fire would be the song with the throbby beat, vaguely-eco- lyrics, and the chick singer.
“Oh, snap!”, I thought. “So all that talk I’d been hearing of this band was about an album of alienation, war in the ‘burbs, and how we relate to our built environment? Sign me up for that!”

And so, The Suburbs. Two years later, and I still think it’s the perfect album for Right Now. It’s got a long runtime (75 minutes with the extra tracks), but as a pretty tight concept album (translated to visuals in Spike Jonze’s Scenes from the Suburbs), it zips right by. And it’s funny how much I love this album, because I’m the last person you’d think would appreciate it: I’m about the furthest thing possible from the suburban kids this project focuses on, but I am an alienated Young Person who loves the Wild and/or hates the sprawl of civilization, and has carefree memories of friends who are now all moving away, settling down, and getting married, so the songs still speak to me in that way.

So, to mark this album’s second anniversary, I’ll be starting a series looking at The Suburbs—the songs themselves, the album as a whole, and the band’s associated multimedia experiments.