The idea behind my (Im)Perfect Verses column, is to review both Indie books and Indie music in one place. I will always be honest, try to be thorough, and, if you’re into that sort of thing, start a conversation about all the topics in between.
My first question to you is, and please do think about this and get back to me, what makes a band or an author “Indie” to begin with? I’m not looking for the obvious here, or an exact definition of the word. There are huge bands that are still considered Indie, and Indie presses that release commercial successes in fiction.
I want to hear your thoughts.
Is it sound? Is it subject matter?
For my first (Im)Perfect post, before the recommendations come pouring in and the column inevitably evolves, I’d like to take a quick look at Canadian Indie band Arcade Fire, who released their first album Funeral way back in September of 2004.
Funeral was an album quite literally written about death. Lead singer Win Butler had just lost his grandfather, Régine Chassagne her grandmother, and Richard Parry had lost his aunt. Consequently, the songs on this album engage our own powerful emotions which follow the death of a family member. Melancholy and beautiful, the chords strike out at you as the vocals envelope you completely.
But Funeral isn’t only the haunting and deep sadness of sickness and of loss. It is also about renewal; youth, and the life which awaits you as you age. It is about the relationships you will make and the ties which bind you to others. For this reason, there is a clear underlying theme of being part of a neighborhood and belonging to a community.
This is a concept which resurfaces, and is flipped on its head, in their 2010 album, The Suburbs. Here the Arcade Fire talks about identity, truth, and about being the same as you always were. It is about returning to one’s former community as an adult and starting the process again with a family of your own. It is about being stuck in our day-to-day lives, about never changing, and about changing so much you end up exactly where you started. There is disillusionment here, and also a stifling feeling of fatalism.
But it, too, is a beautiful kind of melancholy.
Arcade Fire are at their core a dichotomy between sadness and hope, and their resultant music reflects this duality in a way so painstakingly executed that they have become tiny Gods of their genre.
Neon Bible, the album between Funeral and The Suburbs, was released in 2007 and was a bit of a departure from the other two albums both thematically and musically. While the sound was similar in many ways, there was bitterness in Neon Bible that was absent from the other two.
Where Funeral and The Suburbs made a gradual incline from the first track to the last, building upon each song to a powerful climactic crescendo, Neon Bible was all about peaks and valleys. Where Funeral was a brand new sound, full of pain and energy, and The Suburbs was a more mature, parallel answer to their first album, Neon Bible was experimental.
It even had, in some cases, the melodramatic lyrics of a middle child. Yet, Neon Bible still maintained the powerful, passionate feel of individual identity that a second record strives to achieve. This album has some truly fantastic songs, and has become, to me, almost like Pearl Jam’s No Code. It’s an album that needs to be appreciated on the whole, and listened to many times before fully understood. I love it now as much as I love the other two. It really feels like an Indie record, whatever that means.
Nearly a decade after their first album was released, the Arcade Fire have won a whopping 17 music awards internationally (two of which are Grammy’s, with one being the coveted “Album of the Year” for 2010’s The Suburbs) and they are still considered to be an Indie Band. So again I ask, what makes something, anything, Indie?
The Arcade Fire is planning to release a new album, rumored to be titled Reflektor, on October 29th 2013. I will be waiting (Im)patiently for that day. Meanwhile, be neighborly and tell me your thoughts about Arcade Fire and what it means to be Indie in the comments.