It came to me on my first ever MP3 CD, and that alone warrants some attention. It is Arcade Fire's debut album. Funeral came out in 2004, and I first heard the entire album in the summer before my senior year of high school. I was working as a camp counselor at a day camp. By day, I had eighteen 9 and 10 year olds hanging on my arms and legs, accompanied by a less than admirable co-counselor. At the end of the day, after we took the school bus back from the campsite to the community center, I was free. I jumped in the pool for an hour or so, and sped off onto abandoned backroads on my way home.
It was the first summer that I had my own car, and I had a hand-me-down convertible at that. That fading green piece of junk came with an MP3 CD player in tow, all the way from my uncle in Arizona. My friend, and fellow counselor, Jeff, gave me my first MP3 CD.
That CD stayed in the little dinky player all summer. I had problems with it every day. It wouldn’t turn on, it would turn off randomly, I’d have to fix the cords, find the perfect place for it to sit on the passenger seat. It always defaulted to play the first song, and there was no way to skip to song number 80, so oftentimes, I just left it at the beginning.
The beginning was Arcade Fire.
My first taste of freedom behind the wheel was accompanied by an album that pushed every boundary for me. Until that summer, subversive music in my repertoire included Dashboard Confessional and, yikes, some Yellowcard. Funeral was like nothing I’d ever heard – it wasn’t like my dad’s classic rock albums that I had tried to ignore in middle school, it wasn’t oldies, and it sure wasn’t anything I’d hear on the radio or amongst my choir buddies (who introduced me to pop punk/emo).
“Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” starts the album. How many times that summer did I hear the peaceful alien twinkling of the keys that sounded like glittering raindrops? You hear Win Butler’s voice creep in there, ominously, full of texture and full of reason. I used to look up those lyrics on songmeanings.net.
He took nothing easily. “Meet me in the middle, the middle of the town,” he demanded. “We let our hair grow long, and forget all we used to know.” The song kicks into high gear, rushing to life. Funeral begins.
And then there was “Neighborhood #2 (Laika),” which was the most bizarre song on the album. I loved the screeching jabs of guitar, Butler’s hoarsely yelled lines, and the pure intensity of the mess. Clean beats held the song together, even when it felt like a village of people was singing along.
Can you imagine this small girl, accustomed to corporatized music and clean tennis shoes and a job in the middle of a campground, finding her world turned upside down every afternoon on her drive home? I was floored. This was a new future.
I saw U2’s Vertigo Tour the next year. Right before the band took the arena stage, “Wake Up” blasted from the massive speakers, bringing the auditorium to life. That’s when I knew: Arcade Fire was so much bigger than I even knew.
I listen to Funeral now, and it hasn’t lost any of its profundity. There’s the eerie quiet of “In the Backseat,” and the driving motion of “Rebellion (Lies).” The workhorse feeling of “Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)” glares at listeners like a ball of fire, ready to shoot into the air with the thrust of a hip. Funeral took a cheese grater to my conventions, shredding my past expectations and manufacturing a whole new set.
So where will The Suburbs fit into my chronological learning process? Of course, I hope it feels as significant as the hypecloud of excitement is telling me. But when Arcade Fire’s first album became the foundation of my present musical obsession, it makes me wonder if anything will compare, no matter the magnitude.