ARCANE FIRE - Funeral (Rough Trade)

The Arcane Fire are something of a rarity – a Canadian rock band who refuse to toe the line on what constitutes a ‘normal’ group. At any one point there could be as many as fifteen people playing on a track, utilising harps, accordions and cello. It is therefore to their credit that the music that they produce is set firmly in the ‘rock’ genre, and they have some breathtaking moment hidden away in the grooves of this album. As the title might intimate the over-riding theme of these songs is death, and apparently the band attended nine funerals before recording it to get in the right mindset. A few of the songs are linked by having the same title ‘Neighborhood #1’ etc, of which ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’ has already been a single, closely followed by ‘Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)’ in the last few weeks. Musically they do bring to mind the Polyphonic Spree, not only in the number of people in the band, but also in Win Butler’s vocal style. This is quite evident on tracks like ‘Tunnels’ and ‘Laika’, but on the gorgeous ‘Une année sans lumiere’ he comes into his own. Although in a few cases melody is given a back seat to atmosphere, this latter track has both and is a highlight of the album. The last ‘Neighborhood’ track ‘… #5 (Kettles)’ sees the appearance of the string quartet, giving this song an extra melancholy feel, but the band can also rock as is evident on ‘Wake Up’, which has a multi-layered vocal chorus and riffing guitars. The string quartet also shows up on ‘Crown Of Love’, but in this case it is uplifting rather than depressing, and where the track speeds up at the end it is the perfect accompaniment. Butler’s wife Régine (also in the band) comes from Haiti, where much of her family was killed under the brutal regime, and ‘Haiti’ is an affecting song touching on her loss. This album is not an easy listen and needs quite a few hearings before the songs shine through, but it is well worth persevering as you will end up loving these strange little songs as much as I do.