In early September, I contacted Merge Records and requested a Promo copy of the AF's "Funeral". They were kind enough to send me one poste-haste and I received it close to two weeks later. Perhaps it is telling that not only did the first pressing of the CD sell out across North America (the second press which should arrive in stores very soon), I got the promo cd stolen by a former DJ at Reggie's Pub (you know who you are, dark haired girl with the pigtails!).
Luckily, prior to the maddeningly-ironic theft, I listened to it reverently over a period of several days and its songs have been comitted to my memory. Once you hear these tunes, you won't soon forget them, either. Bold and effortless, "Funeral" is not a droopy, depressing affair like the name might suggest; it is more like a wake where life's little miracles are celebrated and remembered.
The first track "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" starts with Win Butler strumming insistently and exploring his quivery, confident vocal range. "Purify the colors / purify my mind / and spread the ashes of the colors / over this heart of mine" sings Win as the song builds to an anthemic denoument. After I heard this song played at high volume, I could feel the weight of my troubles being lifted from my shoulders.
Three of the songs are entitled Neighborhood but the strongest may be the second track, "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)". Spectral-voyage harmonics and chanted vocals in the first verse build up the tension when Sarah Neufeld's violin begins to leap out at you. Meanwhile, Régine's accordion holds the song together like silken string. "Laika" evokes images of a drug-addicted brother battling with his parents, much to the amusement of his voyeuristic neighbors. "When Daddy comes home, you'll start a fight / so the neighbors can dance / in the police disco lights". Utilitarians at heart, the whole band chides Alex for his indulgent behaviour by singing "It's for your own good / it's for the neighborhood".
"Crown of Love" sounds vaguely like a Bright Eyes song, only Win is closer to the prairies than he knows. I can even hear traces of Neil Young in his voice, even though Mr. Butler prefers Motown or soul music. When the band changes time near the end of the tune, the sadness of the track dissipates and the sun shines all over the place.
"Wake Up" may be in the running for "Song of the Year". Live, it is without rival, but they managed to trap that unknown quantity for the record. It begins with a haunting "Whoa" chorus which sounds almost like a Native American prayer, dispelling bad omens and inviting us to free ourselves from the trap of Western Living. "Children / Wake up / hold your / mistake up / before they / turn the summer into dust!" Win intones. "We're just a million little gods / causing rain storms!" "Wake Up" never fails to send a chill down my spinal column, reminding me that I'm mortal and that I must devour every single moment of my life.
There are several other keepers on "Funeral". "Rebellion (Lies)" always makes me think of the Pixies trying to cover a lost David Bowie song. Other reviewers have likened Win's voice to David Byrne but I must plead ignorance on this question (I've never even listened to the Talking Heads before, but so what if he does? Great bands don't crawl out of a Dirt Devil.) "In the Backseat" gives us a solemn Régine wishing that she could go back to the innocence of being young and unaware, before her family tree began to "lose all it's leaves". Her voice is like a kitten hiding beneath the sofa, gentle and wary of strangers, but full of love and sadness. The only stumble on "Funeral" is possibly the track "Haiti", if only because the guitar riff sounds cribbed from the Bloodhound Gang's "Fire Water Burn".
With all the critical acclaim that this album has received, it is tempting to kick over the sand castle and call "Funeral" several bad names. Personally, I couldn't care less about what the Pitchforks and Rolling Stones of the world think about the AF, because this band is as gifted as it is prolific (they wrote over 100 songs in the past few years but only recorded an EP & an LP) and they shall never be defeated. "Funeral" is a multi-tonal, bombastic compilation of unnatural musical beauty. Hands down, this is the best CD to touch my fingers in at least 5 years; like a cobweb in a doorway glistening with dew, "Funeral" will moisten your eyes and stick to your heart for ages.
For track samples, you can always visit their Allmusic.com album review or the Arcade Fire's website.