Home > Music, Reviews > Right Action, Reflection: New Singles from Franz Ferdinand and Arcade Fire

Right Action, Reflection: New Singles from Franz Ferdinand and Arcade Fire

Of all of the elements of popular music that post-millenial indie artists have rejected and have adopted, the most fraught relationship remains with the fundamental ephemerality of the form. The dominant aesthetic of the indie counterculture privileges the integrity of artistic creation above all, no matter how fleeting and disposable the products of that creative impulse might seem. And yet to be fleeting and disposable, but momentarily entirely engaging, is the very purpose of pop music, its intent and its most comfortable status. Indie music in its ideal form seeks to embrace the ephemeral while refusing to relinquish the more substantive elements of art.

We can see this productive tension in two new single releases from indie rock heavyweights who first made their name with seminal releases in the middle of the last decade. Montreal-based giants of the subculture Arcade Fire premiered the first single from their follow-up to their 2011 Grammy Album of the Year The Suburbs this week. The musical semi-collective, centered on vocalists/primary songwriters Win Butler and Regine Chassagne, arrived on the scene in 2004 with the instant classic of love, death, and fragmented family bonds, Funeral. Though there may be American indie acts of at least an equivalent popular profile, Arcade Fire’s international reputation and arena-ready sound made them the pre-eminent act in indie rock well before their Grammy win. They are the most recognizable ambassadors of the indie aesthetic in the musical realm, although that means that they perhaps aren’t all that recognizable after all.

At any rate, “Reflektor” is the lead single from the album of the same name, due out October 28th. The song is a thrust-and-parry electro-drama in the style of the Cure or Low-era Bowie that stretches out to nearly eight minutes. If these comparisons don’t tell us anything terribly new about the band, then “Reflektor” itself doesn’t give us much deeper insight, either. Thematically, both the lyrics and the accompanying video are focused on the image of the mirror, a well-worn trope for the group. If it’s not unappealing, then it’s also not surprising. Certain segments work better than others (the muscular “reflection of a reflection” crescendo at about the 3-minute mark, the closing instrumentation), and the band’s aural imagination is never in doubt. But the pressure felt by Arcade Fire to be perceived as creatively serious and ambitious pushes “Reflektor” into the territory of sagging, top-heavy excess. It’s to their credit that they are able to pull back from this precipice upon approaching it, but the vertiginous plunge ever threatens, and it shouldn’t.

Much simpler in scope and yet much more successful in accomplishing its goals is the new single from arty Scottish post-punkers Franz Ferdinand. “Right Action”, from the now-released record Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action, follows previous punchy, ready-made power-pop hits like “Take Me Out”, “Do You Want To?” and “Ulysses”, usually accompanied by sharp music videos referencing early-20th-century art and visual design (or in the case of “Do You Want To?”, hilariously puncturing the over-inflated balloon of contemporary art pretention). “Right Action” kicks out the jams reliably, its angular guitar lines jabbing percussively while singer Alex Kapranos sneers out clever barbs (“Practically all / is nearly forgiven”).

It’s certainly not a surprising product, and indeed makes less evident effort to push itself out of the band’s comfort zone than “Reflektor” does in Arcade Fire’s case. But Franz Ferdinand gladly accepts a pop ephemerality in “Right Action” with enough self-awareness to avoid inanity and enough enthusiasm to make it fun. It’s certainly not uniformly the case that celebrating temporary impact over lasting affect is the path to success in indie rock or in any other creative milieu, but in the particular contrast offered by “Reflektor” and “Right Action”, it certainly seems to be the case that it works out that way.

Categories: Music, Reviews

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