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Instant Expert: Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire
Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
You’ve seen them at parties, lurking in the corner, waiting to engage in battle disguised as conversation. They’re indie rock know-it-alls, and no matter what band or musician you mention, they’ve got an opinion — strong and almost certainly negative — ready to ram down your throat. With Instant Expert, we offer preparation for these very situations. Each Thursday, in advance of your weekend carousing, we pick an artist and provide a quickie career overview, highlighting both prevailing critical opinions and the inevitable contrarian counterarguments. Even if you’re completely unfamiliar with the music, you’ll be able to bluff your way through and defend your indie cred. This week: Arcade Fire.


Arcade Fire Win Butler
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

The Gist

 
 

The Canadian collective -- which has varied in size over the years, but currently includes seven members -- seemed so out of place with the rest of indie rock when they released their debut EP in 2003. After all, there weren't too many bands featuring musicians who would trade violas, French horns, accordions, harps, glockenspiels and hurdy-gurdys onstage and still rock. But Arcade Fire's first album, 2004's 'Funeral,' became a hit, and by the end of the decade, they were primed for stardom. Their third album, 2010's 'The Suburbs,' debuted at No. 1 and snagged Album of the Year honors at the Grammys the following year, leaving many older and clueless music fans scratching their heads in confusion. But the rest of us totally understand.

 
Arcade Fire Funeral

Critical Consensus

 
 

The band's 2004 debut album takes on all of life's Big Questions -- love, life, death -- in a series of interlocking songs that occasional sound like they have some of the answers. There's some doubt, but the huge, orchestral arrangements ring with confidence, and the melodies have never been brighter. 'Funeral' gave indie rock the permission to aim for magnificence.

 
Arcade Fire The Suburbs

Contrarian Counterargument

 
 

There's a good reason 'The Suburbs' won that Grammy for Album of the Year: It's the band's most focused record, an exploration of disciplined lives after 30. The songs finally come together in big, glorious ways.

 
Arcade Fire Arcade Fire

Counter-counterargument

 
 

The self-released, self-titled debut EP is pure and unfiltered Arcade Fire. The version of 'No Cars Go' is way better than the cluttered one found on the group's second album, 'Neon Bible.'

 
Arcade Fire Instant Expert
Christopher Polk, Getty Images

Whatever You Do, Don’t Say This

 
 

Do they really need all those people onstage?

 

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