Friday, July 1, 2016

Song of the Day #325 - Arcade Fire - Neighbourhood #2 (Laika)

Come on Alex, you can do it!

It's Canada Day, so here's a cut from my favorite Canadian album of all time. I spent all day working in a food truck run by our local branch of the Optimists, who put on the local event + fireworks display. It was tiring work, not really anything I'd say I'm suitable for, but this spirit of volunteerism is something that I feel is "Canadian", and something I'm proud I can associate with myself. I'm not really much of a nationalistic person, but there are little times when such a happiness can well up in me.

There's a really good Tragically Hip lyric: "you said you didn't give a fuck about hockey/and I never saw someone say that before"... it seems very Canadian, in both content and attitude, and I'm happy with that too. Of course, I was never indoctrinated into hockey culture enough that I could experience this particularly, but I had a really similar experience when I found out a friend of mine had never heard Funeral. It is an album that is beyond ubiquitous in my mind, something that has been so deep within me for over a decade that I don't even think to fail to imagine where I'd be without it. No matter how much my tastes stray from Montreal to Atlanta, I've never even questioned the solid "top 10" position of Funeral. In fact, the more isolated it becomes from my day to day listening habits, the more precious and special it becomes.

I think it's on this track that it really becomes great, as an album. Sure, "Tunnels" is a great song, but it's almost too good... it's so perfect, so unique, so sacred, that you know from the first note that it isn't reproducible, isn't sustainable... there's no way there could be another 9 tracks like this. And thus it feels almost like a fluke, a miraculous once-in-a-lifetime artistic achievement. "Laika" is where it becomes clear that this album is the absolute truth. They shift into an entirely new mode without discarding the aesthetic magic they'd cultivated, really feeling like a tour around a neighbourhood. There's the accordion and the distant-filtered vocals and you're like wait wow you can do this too and you start to realize every bit of praise you'd heard was understating it.

There's just so much to love here! The story they tell, in the perspective of a slightly naive, slightly sarcastic, slightly loving, slightly distant, slightly encouraging, slightly realistic, slightly knowing, slightly powerless younger sibling... ahh, I love that perspective, I love it in Reaching Quiet's "Broken Crow", I love it here, I love it in other places I can't think of now. There's the weird mishmash of allusions - Alexander, Laika, vampires, police disco lights - that add up into a pseudo-modern pan-cultural mythos that's really whatever you make of it, aesthetically. It reminds me of the Monogatari Series, but before I saw that I can't remember what it reminded me of, but it was something, and that something still lingers. The exact narrative might not be clear, but the fragmented images are fantastically vivid and the base contextual reading is enthralling: in some sort of broken home, an older brother runs away; you're hearing this from the younger siblings, your neighbours, and what can you make of that?

Beyond meaning is the sonic content, which is wild and unprecedented but still perfect. Soulless twee bullshit indiepop bands are still trying to rip off Win's vocal techniques here, and they still aren't getting it right. And people mock the prevalence of the accordion in the years that followed but damn if it doesn't sound nice and wistful here. The jangley instrumentation is perfectly offset by solid drums and bass, and everything feels live and jam-y without actually being amateurish or unbearable, a lesson lost on the legions of pale imitators. But really, the best parts are the things no one even tried to copy: the transcendental song structure, where every verse is an evolution and every hook feels like the finale; the addition of abrasive elements like the shouting and some nifty high pitch squeals, really feeling like raw emotion bursting through; the emphasis that, for all the meaning, and for all the experimentation, that this is still at the end, for better or worse, a dance track, and that sustaining and empowering a dancey energy is paramount.

Man, what a fantastic track. And this is honestly... probably my least favorite track on the album, hahaha. Any Canadian readers out there have to listen to it. If you don't you have to move.

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