The Sububs: ‘Half Light II’

…an ominous, pulsating undercurrent, quickly joined by an equally-ominous thumping bass drum. All at once, this is overtaken by a mix of harmonica(?), synth strings, and drum machine beat—introducing what one reviewer astutely called “a new doom-laden hint of electronica”. The vocals of the verse stanzas are backed only by the drum machine and synth/bass; in between the verses, however, we get the full arsenal of the intro.

Now that San Francisco’s gone, I guess I’ll just pack it in
Wanna wash away my sins in the presence of my friends

Right off the bat, we are presented with what would seem to be yet another example of city-destruction. It makes one wonder, where did San Francisco go? Was it blown up? Was it “hit from above” by the violent wind of Rococo and Month of May? As for the rest of this verse, some have interpreted it to refer to a kind of survivor’s guilt on the part of the singer, wishing he had been with his friends in the city when it was destroyed.

You and I we head back East to find a town where we can live
Even in the half light, we can see that something’s gotta give

It is in compositions like this when the line begins to blur between the narrative of the singer and the narrative of the actual band. This stanza in particular brings to mind the biography of Arcade Fire found on their first album Funeral (“Members fled from Texas and Ontario at a young a and joined with local youth making their home in Montréal, Quebec, Canada.”); additionally, this verse seems to reference the Suburbs song Wasted Hours (subtitled A Life That We Can Live), which will deal with similar issues of seeking a connection to one’s own place.
Here we also have the sole use of the song’s title. Although from this line it might seem that the half light is now (instead of fallout in the future, as in the first part of this movement), because Butler’s lyrics have that nasty habit of jumping around in tense, I can’t know for sure. If that is the case, then perhaps we can say the Half Light in this song is the present kind of twilit, Long Emergency-type of slow decline of the world we know? Our characters are smart enough to look around and see that the way our culture functions can’t last (i.e. “[has] gotta give”), and so they are going East in search of a way to live that works.

When we watched the markets crash, the promises we made were torn
Then my parents sent for me from out West where I was born

Here we have a succinct reference to recent history (others feature in Antichrist Television Blues, Windowsill, Month of May, and Deep Blue, and probably in others) to ground us in the present, and yet another borrowed phrase from a previous work: parents also send for the kids in The Woodlands National Anthem—a song that, like the Half Light movement, deals with most of the band’s big ideas.

Some people say we’ve already lost,
but they’re afraid to pay the cost for what we’ve lost

It’s interesting to note that this is the first and only mention of fear on The Suburbs. This lyric is so convoluted the way it loops back on itself that it’s quite powerful to hear but I am completely unable to articulate what is meant by it.

Now that you have left me here, I will never raise my voice
All the diamonds you have hid in this home which has no life

A truly uninterpretable verse. Some have suggested that the singer’s old home was destroyed while he was away; hard to say. Let’s assume that the song conveys a definite story. It would seem that our characters (proxy Win and Regine, or proxy Butler Brothers?) were off in the East, searching for a life of their own (in the direction of proxy Montreal?). But then the markets crash, and their parents call them back to the West (proxy Texas or San Francisco?). Something happens to the Bay City; everybody dies? The characters still make the journey to their birthplace, though it is desolate and empty, and find their old home. While the Half Light has “torn them free” (see the first part of this movement), their freedom is mixed with tragedy, their friends and possibly parents are among the casualties (remember that this song is subtitled No Celebration).

Oh, this city’s changed so much since I was a little child
Pray to God I won’t live to see the death of everything that’s wild

This verse may be one of the most indicative of Arcade Fire’s grand theme. Here we see the recurring motif of rearranging streets (things are not made to last in the ’burbs, nor—to take the big-picture view—in our postpostmodern industrial culture), while Butler roots himself firmly on the side of the uncivilized with a whoop.
Furthermore, I’m unsure if this verse is being sung by the song’s narrator, or by Win himself in the present. While it’s possible to assume that the city referred to may be the devastated San Francisco (though Win wasn’t born in SF, it is the closest city to his birthplace of Truckee, CA), I would expect him to have more connection to a childhood home instead of a birthplace.

Though we knew this day would come, still it took us by surprise
In this town where I was born I now see through a dead man’s eyes

One wonders what day this verse refers to; in the framework of the band’s overarching themes (especially Neon Bible)—though it almost seems too easy—one can assume that “this day” is one of long-expected-but-sudden collapse or destruction. No matter how one prepares for such eventualities, you can never be sure when it will actually occur.
Musically-speaking, the dropping-out of the supporting instruments in this verse—and their sudden return for the following final refrain—only adds immensely to the weight of the words.

One day they will see it’s long gone…

Like Half Light I, the second half closes with an anthemic refrain, this particular chorus seems like a reiteration of the “It’s already passed” motif from The Suburbs.

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