"Do you like rock ’n’ roll music?” Win Butler asks midway through Reflektor. “ ’Cause I don’t know if I do anymore.”
Maybe he’s kidding and maybe not. But either way, it seems Butler — and his bandmates — also like plenty of music besides rock these days.
That much is clear from the Montreal indie-rockers’ fourth album Reflektor (available Tuesday but streaming online now). The wildly anticipated followup to their career-defining 2010 Grammy winner The Suburbs, the expansive 75-minute disc is a sprawling, gloriously messy double-album of grandly joyful rebellion and rebirth that somehow manages simultaneously to defy, confound and exceed expectations. At times it feels like a reaction to its predecessor’s tightly wound, claustrophobic art-rock (and the fame it generated), as the septet let down their hair, stretch their creative legs and explore sounds and styles from Haitian rara to post-disco — without completely abandoning rock ’n’ roll, thankfully. Here are a few of the new and old sounds (and other influences) you might hear reflected in Reflektor:
This one’s a no-brainer. Former LCD frontman James Murphy co-produced the album with the band and longtime collaborator Markus Dravs, and his fingerprints are all over the place, from the bottom-heavy locked grooves and open-ended jams to the audacious electronic squiggles and dusty clatter. If anybody brings some disco inferno to today’s Arcade Fire, it’s him.
The Thin White Duke himself makes a brief cameo on the title track. But his presence looms larger throughout the other dozen cuts. You can hear elements of his late-’70s Berlin trilogy in the darkly decadent undertones, experimental textures and perhaps especially in Butler’s sometimes-detached, alienated vocals. Ashes to ashes, funk to funky.
The music of Haiti — the family home of multi-instrumentalist Régine Chassagne (also Butler’s wife) — has impacted the band ever since 2004’s Funeral. But now they dive in head-first, embracing the syncopated, propulsive percussion and horns of festive rara in cuts like Here Comes the Night Time. The Caribbean trip doesn’t end there — the dubby downbeats and trippy knobtwiddling of Flashbulb Eyes (among others) recall Jamaican legend Lee (Scratch) Perry.
Orpheus & Eurydice
Butler says the 1959 film Black Orpheus — the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, set during Carnaval — inspired the lyrics of isolation and death found on songs like Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice) and It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus). Clearly, the influence doesn’t end there; the disc’s cover is a shot of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture of the pair. Plus, trying to raise your dead lover with music sure sounds like voodoo. So it all ties together. Somehow.
The Clash’s Sandinista!
In 1979, the British punks had just released London Calling, their biggest album to date. In response, they holed up in studios like New York’s Electric Lady (where some of Reflektor was made), let their imaginations run wild, reinventing themselves and confounding the masses with a massive multi-disc set that joyfully meandered from rock to reggae to dub to dance, laced with electronics and horns. Sound familiar?