By David Werther.
Arcade Fire, Reflektor (Merge Records, 2013)
Here's a Jeopardy clue: Voodoo drumming, Soren Kierkegaard, and the 1960 Oscar-winning film, Black Orpheus are key influences.
And the answer is: What is Arcade Fire’s Reflektor?
Black Orpheus sets the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in Brazil during Carnival time. It’s a favorite film of Arcade Fire’s front man, Win Butler, and figures in three songs: “Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice),” “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)”, and “Afterlife.” The video for “Afterlife” consists of clips from Black Orpheus, after Eurydice has died and Orpheus has gone to the Underworld in search of her. The Rodin carving on the CD’s cover offers another view of the couple in the Underworld.
The passionate love of Orpheus and Eurydice contrasts with the lives Soren Kierkegaard critiques in The Present Age, which he describes as “… one of understanding and reflection, without passion. …“ At such a time, thought leads to more and more thinking but never action, a theme picked up on in the CD’s title track, Reflektor, “Just a reflection of a reflection of a reflection.”
The mythical Orpheus could charm the whole of creation with his lyre and song. In the movie Black Orpheus, a guitar does duty for the lyre and the relationship between Orpheus and charmed Eurydice is anything but disinterested contemplation. Reflektor too attests to the power of music: “When I hear the beat, the spirit’s on me like a live wire.” In this case the beat is the voodoo drumming Butler heard when visiting Haiti with his wife, composer and band member, Regine Chassagne.
Whether or not Arcade Fire is consciously trying to be a musical Orpheus to our present age, their blend of dance music, rhythm, and heartfelt singing might just be enough to stir even the most melancholy Danish philosopher.