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Arcade Fire spreads into new realms with brooding ‘Reflektor’

WButler

Win Butler

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Updated: December 1, 2013 7:09AM



Every great band faces that turning moment where they transition from a rock band to one that refuses to be only that. That moment for Arcade Fire is this fourth album, a collection of dark themes, pulsing Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms, and lush electronics.

Some credit for “Reflektor” (Merge) must go to producer James Murphy, once of LCD Soundsystem, who knows how to create multi-layered pop music that increases heat on the dance floor. If the title song sounds like it could be a lost track from David Bowie’s “Berlin” era, you’re in luck: Those are Bowie’s vocals lurking in the background.

Arcade Fire started as a gang of many who extolled triumphant chaos onstage and somehow managed to funnel it into pop grandeur. There is less of that exhilarative vibe here, but instead more of a blast of world beats and brooding dance-pop.

Longtime fans will recognize the band’s “Remain in Light” moment on “Flashbulb Eyes” as well as the New Order influence of “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus).” Besides those adventuresome turns, the band also sticks with basic building blocks, from the arena punk of “Joan of Arc” to rock swagger of “Normal Person,” where Win Butler sings with tease of vintage Mick Jagger: “I think I’m cool, but am I cruel enough for you?”

No Arcade Fire album so far has been this accomplished, but what still prevents this band from reaching greatness is its hunger for indulgence. At 85 minutes, many songs linger long after their impact. And is there really a need for a “reprise” of one song, and 11 minutes of mostly low-end electronic gurgling at the end? No need for fat before succulence.

Anders Osborne, “Peace” (Alligator)

Beyond the traditional jazz and brass bands of New Orleans is a scene of singer-songwriters standing tall behind Anders Osborne, a Swedish-born troubadour who exemplifies songs of road wisdom and indelible grooves. This newest album reveals the peak of his powers, a combination of heavy funk (“Five Bullets”), chugging pop (“Dream Girl”) and Southern rock redemption (“I’m Ready”).

There is a tendency among blues-based artists to keep circling back to familiar themes, but Osborne brings real world grit to this music, headed by “47,” a song that expresses the economic anxiety of growing older, and “Sentimental Times,” panning the graveyards of small towns left dry by Hurricane Katrina. His supporting players, including the musical drumming of Brady Blade, and keyboards of John Gros, provide a loose, but complex backdrop. Osborne’s smearing slide guitar playing is as deeply emotive as his vocals: Here’s a rare artist who lives what he sings and to listen means there’s no turning back.

Anders Osborne plays SPACE in Evanston at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Visit evanstonspace.com.

Mark Guarino is a Chicago freelance writer.



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