Columns

The Week in Reviews

Arcade Fire

Arcade Fire ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
When we knew that Reflektor, or something like it, was coming – when we walked out the front door of our house under the train line to see it stamped on the railway bridge – we dusted off the old Arcade Fire albums to listen to at every opportunity. They became the soundtrack for the clearing up of backlogged dirty dishes, for rounds of Wii golf, for post-trivia smoking sessions. The unconscious process of lyrical accumulation this triggered was rewarded when Reflektor arrived with those first lines, the ones about the prism/prison of light, that immediately recall ‘Sprawl II’ from 2010’s The Suburbs. Already an affecting song, this one becomes more so when considered as an important prologue to ‘Reflektor’; while the sound is less insistent, far from urgent, there is much more at stake in the earlier song. But something happens in the intervening three years, and the rejoinder ‘Reflektor’ makes to Régine’s appeal for darkness is depressingly conclusive. ‘I need the darkness someone please cut the lights,’ she implored, but the only darkness she gets in response is no darkness at all: the band finds themselves ‘alone in the darkness of white,’ trapped for good in the unnerving condition of this reflective age.

Shlohmo – Fine, Thanks
When I first heard Fine, Thanks I thought it was a new release. Not, as I found out halfway through writing this review, that it was a reissue of a heretofore extremely rare EP from 2010. And while I guess it says a lot about Shlohmo’s work that a release from six years ago can sound so new, what was interesting about Fine, Thanks when I first heard about it, and remains so now, is how thoroughly it seems to synthesise the best aspects of Shlohmo’s later major efforts. Like in 2011’s Bad Vibes some of the songs (‘Dear Axe,’ ‘(Inside),’ and ‘Blur Face’) initially play out like arrhythmic collages of sound only to be made coherent when a backbeat slips in or a sample starts looping in just the right spot. Others (‘Generation Loss,’ ‘Been Thinking’) have their textures thickened by feedback made by guitars over more apparent rhythms, both of which are redolent of 2015’s Dark Red (albeit nowhere near as distorted, although ‘Not Here’ definitely prefigures both the aforementioned LP and the Bad Vibes cut ‘Trapped in a Burning House’). But there differences too. For one, Fine, Thanks is sample-heavy in a way that Shlohmo’s later work is simply not – bells, (what sound like) gamelans, and snippets of spoken audio fill the large part of the EP’s sonic space and often shimmer like neon lights seen through heavy rain (‘Corners,’ ‘Been Thinking’). Another difference is embodied entirely in one track, the subtle droned-out and beautiful ‘In the Dark.’ It’s like nothing I’ve heard from Shlohmo, or anyone, and really nails down just how (despite it’s similarity to his later work) different Fine, Thanks is, and while I might be six years too late to the party, it may well be my favourite of his work.

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