Fronted by the husband-and-wife team of Win Butler and Rgine Chassagne, the Arcade Fire's emotional debut - rendered even more poignant by the dedications to recently departed family members contained in its liner notes - is brave, empowering, and dusted with something that many of the indie-rock genre's more contrived acts desperately lack: an element of real danger. Funeral' s mourners - specifically Butler and Chassagne - inhabit the same post-apocalyptic world as London Suede's Dog Man Star; they are broken, beaten, and ferociously romantic, reveling in the brutal beauty of their surroundings like a heathen Adam & Eve. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," the first of four metaphorical forays into the geography of the soul, follows a pair of young lovers who meet in the middle of the town through tunnels that connect to their bedrooms. Over a soaring piano lead that's effectively doubled by distorted guitar, they reach a Lord of the Flies-tinged utopia where they can't even remember their names or the faces of their weeping parents. Butler sings like Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood used to play, like a lion-tamer whose whip grows shorter with each and every lash. He can barely contain himself, and when he lets loose it's both melodic and primal, like Berlin-era Bowie or British Sea Power. "Neighborhood #2 (Laka)" examines suicidal desperation through an angular Gang of Four prism; the hypnotic wash of strings and subtle meter changes of "Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)" winsomely capture the mundane doings of day-to-day existence; and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)," Funeral's victorious soul-thumping core, is a goose bump-inducing rallying cry centered around the notion that "the power's out in the heart of man, take it from your heart and put it in your hand." The Arcade Fire are not bereft of whimsy. "Crown of Love" is like a wedding cake dropped in slow motion, utilizing a Johnny Mandel-style string section and a sweet, soda-pop stand chorus to provide solace to a jilted lover yearning for a way back into the fold, and "Haiti" relies on a sunny island melody to explore the complexities of Chassagne's mercurial homeland. However, it's the sheer power and scope of cuts like "Wake Up" - featuring all 15 musicians singing in unison - and the mesmerizing, early-Roxy Music pulse of "Rebellion (Lies)" that make Funeral the remarkable achievement that it is. These are songs that pump blood back into the heart as fast and furiously as it's draining from the sleeve on which it beats, and by the time Chassagne dissects her love of riding "In the Backseat" with the radio on, despite her desperate fear of driving, Funeral's singular thread is finally revealed; love does conquer all, especially love for the cathartic power of music.
"Wake Up," a track from the debut full-length by Montreal's Arcade Fire, builds from a midtempo strum into a "You Can't Hurry Love" gallop, which singer Win Butler interrupts with a yell: "You better look out below!" Somehow, none of this hits the ear as overemotional. Throughout Funeral
, the band augments its five-piece lineup with string sections, weaving near-cinematic, folk-influenced chamber pop that slots in somewhere between Belle and Sebastian's delicacy and the robust classicism of 80s New Zealand bands such as the Chills and the Verlaines. The album drips with enough romanticism to rival Jeff Buckley's Grace
, from the dreamscape of "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" ("Meet me in the middle of the town, forget all we used to know") to the epic realism of "In the Backseat." One of the indie rock communitys most beloved finds of 2004, Arcade Fire are poised to win over even more listeners. --Rickey Wright