As the story goes, these guys had a reason to feel depressed; many of them had close family members die recently. You’re probably thinking “Oh no, not another one of these depressed hipster bands recording whiny music!,” but Funeral proves to be a little bit different from the norm. This album doesn’t just wallow in despair; it’s frequently beautiful! There’s a light at the end of its tunnel! It’s almost too-obvious they were using the process of recording this album to help them through the process of grieving their loved ones, and the result is undoubtedly one of the most alluringly bittersweet albums I’ve ever heard!
Not only do their emotions genuine, but these are actually well-written songs. That’s right, folks, Arcade Fire actually know how to pen a tune! Not only are the melodies good, but the harmonies are oftentimes breathtaking! ing turn these harmonies into something truly staggering is the mesmerizing, atmospheric instrumentation. They create quite an alluring mixture of their morose pianos, elaborately dark string arrangements, and dreamy guitars. Tasty! Let’s talk about some of these songs, shall we?
Listen to the way the album’s first track “Neighborhood #1” begins. If you’re not immediately captured by that morose synthscape and those bittersweet pianos, then you had might as well turn off the album right away, because you’ll probably like nothing here. Luckily, the song doesn’t wallow in such a down-beat mode for too long; a drum beat pipes up and the thing grows louder and more dynamic! Ah yes, isn’t it nice when songwriters constantly let their textures evolve, giving their songs an overarching push to the end? By golly, it is!!! That’s an excellent song, but it does have one whopping huge thorn in its side that must be addressed: The singing. I know lead singer Win Butler wanted to release all the anguish he had bottled up inside, but that doesn’t mean he had to SCREAM as loudly as he could, does it? His scream-singing comes off as overblown and amateurish, and it’s so prevalent throughout this album that I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of listeners completely wrote it off at that point. They had good reason to!
But I still like listening to the album, because of the harmonies! If you want to hear what a beautiful chord progression sounds like, just get a load of the beginning “In the Backseat.” God, that minor-chord sequence is so great that I would even like hearing the plain chords on a synthesizer. That’s the power of a good chord progression. But, of course, they dress it up beautifully with their intricate instrumentation standards, which includes an absolutely heart-melting string arrangement. Naturally, the middle of that song is louder and more upbeat, providing contrast to the way the song opened. Sometimes, these songs that contain such dramatic crescendos in it seem bloated, but the way they managed to capture my attention from the very beginning, I’m inclined to follow through the crescendos with my undivided attention. A song like this is rare, indeed!
Speaking of ultra-dramatic crescendos, that’s another one of these guys’ signature specialties. I suppose that gets a little tiring since so many of these songs have such dramatic crescendos—but geez, these songs are so well-written that they feel like they’re actually deserved. It’s terribly engaging listening to its roller coaster ride of emotions through a song like “Crown of Love,” through its dips and valleys and everything. In its final third, it suddenly turns into something of a disco-dance, which was an almost jarring surprise but a delightful one after the initial shock is over. It sounds like they’re going to dance off all that overflowing heartache they’re experiencing. Sometime you gotta dance!
Unfortunately, not all of these songs are so excellent. “Haiti” has an interesting sort of dreary tropical texture to it, but it’s a freaking two-chord song! Hearing them do a two-chord song after staggering me in other parts of this album is disheartening to say the least. “Neighborhood #4 (The Kettles)” is much better as a composition, but it’s so downbeat and sluggishly paced that it never catches fire. That said, at least those thick, string-ridden arrangements are nice to sit back and soak up.
A lot of critics and fans have been calling this album one of the ultimate classics of the ’00s. As far as I’m concerned, they’re right about that. It fits in pretty well with the trend of indie musicians creating depressing music to elaborate orchestration, and it also contains some of the most compelling melodies and harmonies of anything I’ve heard this decade. Plus, this isn’t really such a depressing album. It’s more about overcoming that depression. That, right there, is actually something this world could use.