One of our primary goals here at Rust Is Just Right is to provide an alternative to a lot of the dismissive snark that is the hallmark of a lot of contemporary music criticism these days. We believe that in a world that’s overflowing with great music, it’s better to analyze and promote what’s worth listening to instead of attempting to tear down what’s already popular. Sure, it’s easy to succumb to the temptation of writing something bitingly clever about a band that we don’t like, but it’s not really going to accomplish all that much. Besides, it’s not our place to decry other people’s tastes. If you enjoy something, we’re in no place to tell you why you’re wrong–life is simply too short and awful to take away any such joy like that.
Given those parameters, this editorial may seem to run counter to that mission. Yes, we are going to slag on Arcade Fire, but that’s not the main purpose of this piece. No, our qualms are with the breathless adulation and coverage that the band receives on an infuriatingly and consistent basis, and how Arcade Fire has somehow in the past decade became shorthand for what’s “good” in “indie rock”. This unabashed love of the band has frustratingly led to the ridiculous need that many publications and writers to shoehorn a mention of “Arcade Fire” in pieces that are completely irrelevant to the group.
First, we’ll lay all our cards on the table and explain why we don’t like the band in the first place. Well…Eels wrote a superior album about coping with the deaths of close family members, Pavement did a much better job of writing seemingly-tuneless melodies, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor along with Broken Social Scene did a far better job of simply being a collective of Canadian musicians. Hell, even the cover of Funeral is infuriating, since it comes off as a rip-off of the art associated with Neutral Milk Hotel’s In the Aeroplane Over the Sea–shit, it even has the same goddamn font that NMH used. The art just screams “WE REALLY LIKE NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL AND WANT YOU TO KNOW THAT WE’RE COOL LIKE THAT!” If you want more substantial criticism (beyond this standard rock-critic trope of accusing a group of being derivative of all these other influences), it boils down to the fact that their music is boring, they can’t sing, and have never written an insightful lyric. They wrote a two-chord song, and they couldn’t figure out how to do it in a key that was in the range of their singer–LCD Soundsystem managed to do that, and came up with one of the greatest songs of the decade despite James Murphy’s limited vocal abilities. This is a band that ruins their one decent moment, the song “Wake Up”, with an abrupt and inexplicable shift into fucking “Walking On Sunshine”.
Perhaps my frustration with the band can best be explained by their presence in the film “Her”. It’s an absolutely amazing film and further cements in my mind that Spike Jonze is a true genius, and I was glad that he won an Oscar for his work. However, I had significant issues with the score. There was one key scene where the OS “Samantha” composes her own music, and we in the audience here it played back. It’s twinkly piano music that sounds pleasant on the surface, even if it has no real melodic ideas, and sounds like something an entity with limited knowledge of songwriting would create. Which seems to fit the idea of a computer attempting a human behavior and approximating that behavior except…it was frustratingly obvious that the piano was played by a human, since the rhythms were wildly imprecise and fingers were lingering too long on certain notes and making the notes stick together and therefore ruining the illusion. That’s Arcade Fire in a nutshell: humans attempting to mimic machines which are trying to pass off as humans, and failing miserably.
For the most part, it hasn’t been an issue and aside from their presence in an otherwise magnificent film, I’ve been able to avoid Arcade Fire rather easily. It doesn’t take much to avoid clicking links like “Watch Arcade Fire’s 25 Best ‘Reflektor’ Tour Cover Songs”, even if those links appear everywhere and on multiple sites. No, the true problem is when the band makes a random appearance in an article that has absolutely nothing to do with them, as illustrated in this review. Pitchfork’s review of M83’s re-release of their first three albums marked the moment when we officially reached Peak Music Critic Insufferability, as the reviewer attempted to describe M83’s style with this statement: “Arcade Fire are perhaps a better touchpoint for their overall approach: lead with emotions telegraphed big and wide enough to fill a stadium, and let the guitars and synthesizers fall into place around them.”
Now, let that sink in for a second. Not only is it ridiculous to compare the music of the two bands (since no one who has ever listened to both bands would find a connection beyond “these are two acts that create sounds”–just listen to that video above and explain how it resembles Arcade Fire in any fashion), note that the connection between the two seems to be…that the two groups are both emotive. This assertion that somehow Arcade Fire was the first group to emphasize emotion in some capacity in their music is completely insane (especially in an era where “emo” was huge) and demonstrates the myopia that afflicts a generation of rock critics in which in order to convey that a musician is “serious” that it must be compared to this one band. To further underscore how clumsily the point is made in the review, note that the comparison to Arcade Fire is immediately dropped and no further mention is made in the rest of the review.
However, the most ridiculous aspect of the comparison is just simple chronology. M83’s first two albums were released before Funeral, while their third was released a couple of months after. Unless those crazy Canadians can bend the rules of time and space, it can be definitively stated that they had absolutely no effect on the French electronic duo. If you’re dead-set on making some sort of comparison, perhaps another article can be written about how M83 influenced Arcade Fire, but why bother. I mean, this is a great song that displays subtlety and mastery of melody–something that is difficult to find in an Arcade Fire song.
That’s not the only irrelevant mention of Arcade Fire I encountered this month–in a review of Death From Above 1979’s new album, I learned that apparently we started measuring time in terms of Arcade Fire album releases in the past decade. To be fair, that isn’t the worst problem with that ridiculous review (which includes gems like finding out that Wolfmother was apparently a dance-punk band), but it once again points to the annoying habit that many rock critics employ of needlessly dropping references to Arcade Fire. DFA1979 are as bad a comparison as M83 in terms of music, but why the hell should that matter?
These are all symptoms of the general problem of giving Arcade Fire way too much credit than they deserve. In this feature, we see the band get praise for…incorporating “whoas” in a song, as if having an instrumental swell accompanied by a wordless chorus was a fucking revolutionary act (just one year later, we would see a much better example of this technique from My Morning Jacket). Arcade Fire somehow also gets credit for “having an auxiliary floor-tom for intermittent bashing” when Radiohead had a hit the previous year doing exactly that (and to great effect). Even the most diehard Arcade Fire fan has to admit that Radiohead is a much more influential band. Besides, has this been a real trend? Sure, White Rabbits used it to great effect on “Percussion Gun” and it helped get people to listen to their fantastic album It’s Frightening, but for fuck’s sake, it isn’t worth tricking me into clicking a link for a goddamn Imagine Dragons video. More than anything, it just seemed like an excuse for this poor excuse for a Canadian collective to employ extra people to play random percussion, seemingly ripping off Slipknot of all bands (hey, I knew I forgot another random influence of Arcade Fire).
Arcade Fire fans, I mean you no harm. But please, if you end up working as music critics, please refrain from constantly mentioning your favorite band. It reflects poorly on all of us.