Arcade Fire, “Everything Now” (Columbia)
Arcade Fire’s fifth album is overstuffed with ideas and musical styles by design.
The overarching theme centers on consumerism and how the multitude of choices can be paralyzing. It all builds to the haunting ballad “We Don’t Deserve Love,” with Win Butler singing mostly at the top of his register over a woozy bed of distorted guitars that makes the song sound as post-apocalyptic as the lyrics suggest. “If you can’t see the forest for the trees just burn it all down,” sings Butler, after all the usual consumer-driven distractions don’t work. “And bring the ashes to me.”
It’s a heavy concept. But fear not, the beauty of “Everything Now” is that Arcade Fire creates the feeling of too many choices by offering an overwhelming number of great songs done in a dizzying number of good-time musical styles that can be enjoyed on their own.
The title track, an early song of the year contender, conjures the height of disco-era excess with its grand Abba-esque piano intro that shields us from the despair of Butler’s lyrics punctuated by chants of “Everything now!” “Creature Comfort” uses a catchy, Groove Armada-styled industrial pop vibe to hide the suicidal thoughts that come from tying your self-esteem to other’s opinions.
But there are simpler pleasures here too, like Butler’s “Emotional Rescue”-era Rolling Stones delivery on “Good God Damn” or the dancehall-driven “Peter Pan.”
Arcade Fire — who produced the album with their longtime collaborator Markus Dravs, Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter and Pulp’s Steve Mackey — aren’t going for subtlety here. (They even include two versions of “Infinite Content” — one punk and one folkie — where they scream “Infinite content! Infinite content! We’re infinitely content!”) However, getting hit over the head with songs this good is perfectly fine.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
Tyler, the Creator, “Flower Boy” (Columbia)
Whether throughout his tenure with the Odd Future collective (you might know fellow member Frank Ocean), or alone on a handful of solo albums, Tyler, the Creator has seemingly liked playing the fool with foulmouthed, abstract yet poetic references to golf and wolves, as well as baiting listeners with scathingly misogynistic and homophobic lyrics. But was it all just a setup for the towering rap-rumination of “Flower Boy,” a comparatively serious look at the various struggles of youth, romance and self-empowerment?
To the free accompaniment of flip-floppy jazz and wonky-hop soundscapes, Tyler raps “Tell these black kids they can be who they are,” on “Where This Flower Blooms,” as he morphs from being a weird pimp into a butterfly. On the fanciful “Garden Shed,” Tyler pushes the cocoon and bud metaphors of human sexual identity with a simple, elegant phrase: “Don’t kill a rose / Before it could bloom.” This is a far lovelier way out — if out is where he’s going — than the sensualist politics of “Foreword” or “Glitter,” where Tyler (on the latter) leaves intimate messages for a lover, while (on the former), going back-and-forth between shout-outs “to the girls that I lead on / For occasional head and always keeping my bed warm” and “Next line will have ’em like ‘Whoa’: I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004.” Such rich gamesmanship and honest confusion has rarely been achieved in rap, rock or soul.
A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Dan Wilson, “Re-Covered”
• Randy Newman, “Dark Matter”
• Brett Eldredge, “Brett Eldredge”