The Explanation and Inspiration Behind Arcade Fire's Reflektor

OK. Are you all ready for this? It is time to reveal a bit of my obsessive side. There are some things in my life I think about nearly every day, and the subject I am about to write about over the next month is something that has been on my mind a lot over the past few years, but is a subject that has occupied a great deal of my headspace especially in the past year.

I feel a bit like a conspiracy theorist by even saying this, but I see things in the work of semi-Canadian rock band Arcade Fire. I see things man, lots of things. I see connections, lots of connections—reflections, even. Connectors and reflectors. All over the place. Not just in their last album, which was called Reflektor, but throughout ALL of their albums (to catch a glimpse of what I mean by the connections go here and here and here).

So, over the next few weeks I am going to roll out a number of Arcade Fire related articles, all while trying to finish a longer more scholarly article surrounding an in-depth analysis of their work. I am hoping to get it published in something more legitimate than a blog. Pray it finds a home. 

Over the next few entries I'll be offering: 

  • a list of all the repeated (nay, reflected) lyrics contained on Reflketor
  • my insights into the songs "We Exist" and "Porno" and "Oh Eurydice" 
  • and my thoughts on whether or not Arcade Fire are an anti-religious band.
But here in this post I wanted to offer an introduction to the coming weeks' writings, by way of giving an explanation of what I think Win Butler and his band are up to on 2013's Reflektor

The work was heralded as a double album and indeed it is, but did they divide up the songs onto two discs for any reasons other than it's 75 minutes plus (or 85 minutes if you count the 10 minute hidden pre-track)? I am here to declare they did.

Here is how the two discs are divided:
Disc one, apart from the song "Reflektor", contains songs surrounding either the difficulty of being an outsider (or a revolutionary) in the "Reflective Age" or about those who, often unknowingly, find themselves trapped in or succumbing to the "Reflective Age".

Disc two, using the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as its backdrop without strictly adhering to the origin story, contains songs surrounding the difficulty finding and maintaining true human relationships in the "Reflective Age".

The song "Reflektor", while fitting in more with the themes of disc two, acts as an introduction to the themes webbing their way throughout the entire album.

Now, before we start categorizing some of the individual tracks on the album, we need to define the term "Reflective Age", a term used a few times on the album (particularly in the songs "Reflektor" and "Awful Sound (Oh Eurydice)")

As Win Butler revealed in numerous interviews given around Reflektor's release, the "Reflective Age" is a concept laid out by the Danish Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard in his work The Present Age, which you can purchase here or read an excerpt of here. I am currently beginning to read The Present Age in full, but here is a brief description of Kierkegaard's concept taken from the more scholarly essay I mentioned I was working on above:

In Kierkegaard's writing, the “Reflective Age” is a time where people are caught up only in abstract reflection and thus complete inaction, standing in contrast to a “Revolutionary Age” where people make decisions and act on them. This age of lights and reflectors we find ourselves in is an age where nobody actually does anything but only reflects on what they might do. We are trapped in reflective inaction and do not even know it.

In this description we find the key to a summation of the entirety of Arcade Fire's work, revealed here for all to see:

Arcade Fire, from its inception to its most recent work, stand in as an artist's version of an existentialist philosopher, calling us out of
inactive non-being-ness into active being-ness, from reflection to revolution, from passive to assertive. This one theme pervades nearly every one of their songs.

I will unpack this line of thought at length on the essay I am working on, but I can briefly explain it here by putting it in the context of the songs on Reflektor. Disc one contains a set of songs sung from the perspective of those who are rebelling against the "Reflective Age" (as in "We Exist", "Here Comes the Nighttime", "Normal Person", and "Joan of Arc"), which are then reflected by the other songs on disc one which depict those trapped in the "Reflective Age", a group either in denial or ignorant of being trapped ("Flashbulb Eyes" and "You Already Know"). The opening song "Reflektor" acts as the connector between the two themes of disc one, being about someone trapped in the "Reflective Age" who desires to break free but does know how or possess the capability.

Disc two then is about the dissolution or death of a relationship, through either actual physical or spiritual/emotional death, a death rendered through the oppressive "Reflective Age" in which we all live. Indeed, both physical and spiritual deaths are implied in the lyrics and it would seem Win Butler desires us to see the death of the relationship depicted as a both/and situation rather than one or the other. Disc 2 itself does not appear to contain one grand linear narrative and perhaps is not even about the dissolution of one particular relationship, but is instead numerous impressions on the death of human relationships in the Reflective Age. Throughout the course of the disc it would appear the male character (Orpheus) is continually trying to save the female character (Eurydice) from the Reflective Age but for numerous reasons (perhaps she was murdered or perhaps she chose to give up under the weight of it all, "the awful sound, coming down") he fails to do so and his love is taken from him.

On either disc both the characters in the stories and us as the listeners are left with a choice: either we succumb to the passivity of the "Reflective Age" or we revolt against it, creating our own destiny. In fact, as I stated in my previous article, this is the one narrative Arcade Fire have continued to tell throughout their entire oeuvre.  Now, what exactly Arcade Fire are calling us to revolt towards, if they are calling us towards anything at all, is something I will address another time.

Well, I hope that was illuminating for everyone. There is plenty more to come.
Related articles on Arcade Fire:
The Reflected Lyrics of Arcade Fire's Reflektor: A List
Wakeup!: Uncovering Arcade Fire's Grand Narrative
Continual Themes and Subjects in the Work of Arcade Fire
Arcade Fire Songs Mentioning Light, Darkness, Mirrors, and Reflections

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