She doesn’t remember it this way, but I do. This would have been late 2004 or early 2005. I was delirious with fever and half-sleeping, half-listening to her sing our infant son to bed. Those were the days she sang him Rufus Wainwright, and I don’t care what the man produces from here on out. From where I sit, it will always be nothing short of brilliant.
It took a while. He fights off sleep and always has. When at last she came back to the bedroom I had a simple request: “Could you sing me some Arcade Fire?”
“Sing you some what?”
“The Arcade Fire.”
“Is that a band or a song?” As I type I cannot help a recurring thought: what a difference five years makes. But in this case her conversion took a single hour. More on that in a moment.
Electing an artist of the decade was a nearly impossible chore, because the shortlist began with exactly two obvious choices, equally matched: Godspeed You! Black Emperor and The Arcade Fire. Both recorded only two LPs this decade. Both hail from Montreal. Both have spawned unquantifiable imitators. Both are critically acclaimed and boast a massive stage presence. GYBE dominated the first few years of the decade, and AF, the rest. Both are dutifully political.
This is where the comparisons end. A GYBE record is a place of angst, tension, sometimes rage. Tracks can run over twenty minutes and sport four, five different countenances. The term “experimental” is tempting, but the compositions are so expertly built that the listener is sure that the songwriters were sure. There is no need for experimenting, and no room. The term “post-rock” is alluring, but GYBE is not really “post” anything, at least not the way that, say, Muse is post-Queen. Instead, these are soundtracks to films you hope don’t exist. These are troubled horizons.
Quite the contrary, an Arcade Fire track is a three-minute celebratory piece. Perhaps not decidedly upbeat, but always kinetic, hopeful. Neither Win nor Regina are particularly accomplished singers, and this way the audience is invited to join. The crowd gathers, the division between artist and audience continues to fall. Have you ever seen them live? The wife saw them once on television and she was hooked. That bears repeating: the wife gave herself over because of one live performance broadcast on tv. (It wasn’t this one, by the way.)
It is a hell of a question, choosing between the surly geniuses or the infectious commoners. Should music always keep paving new ground? Or on occasion should it stay put for awhile so we can all sing along? It is a shame to have to eliminate one because — between the two — this is the entirety of modern rock. The last ten years can be distilled down to two bands which have literally nothing of substance in common with each other. Nothing is left out, nothing is redundant. Truly perfect complements.