By Brendan Tuytel
Remember youth. Not specific years, nor the age you were. No details, just remember the feelings, the effervescent sense of freedom. There was sadness, angst, a persistent longing for meaning, but it was worth it for the liberation. Anarchy was within an arm’s reach by flipping off an authoritative figure with the possible cost of a slap on the wrist. As we age, we transition to responsibility, respectability, and become restricted by a role, yet we faced it with the utmost resistance in rebellion.
It was the last month of summer, where the heat teeters on tolerable and tiresome. Summer is the season of freedom, but freedom can be very demanding. These are the dog days, where drinks are aplenty and evenings feel eternal. Over the last few months, anticipation had been building for Arcade Fire’s return. As was clear from the singles that had already been released, this was an album about youth, not one of nostalgia or fondness, but one of accuracy. As the fleeting rekindling of youth fades in August, The Suburbs was the breath to brighten the burn.
This is an album about duality. There’s an inner conflict reflective of our own turmoil; emotional attachment gets strained as familiarity fades, fears force out feelings of jubilance, and the notion of place being our own, a home, is challenged. It’s difficult to tell if The Suburbs is an album about reflection, or problematic present, and it’s all the more successful because of it. The issues are ubiquitous, the conflicts constant, a rioting reverberation. Memories are dynamic and Arcade Fire manages to capture the full spectrum of feeling through aging. Rococo ridicules the modern youth as trend followers, but City with No Children shines a different light on conformity. At the heart of the album is the two part spectacle of The Sprawl. The dichotomous tracks highlight the duality of the subject matter. A confrontation confounds Win Butler as he struggles to answer questions on where he belongs, where he’s from, and what he truly owns; contrasting this is Regine’s childlike passion, where she defies constraints, opting for the “pretentious things.” It’s a resonating dissonance, relishing wasted hours for their innocent pleasures, relinquishing regrets to savour the simplistic joys of wasting nights on whimsy, but mourning a mammoth lack of meaning in a clean cut community.
What I’ve come to appreciate most about The Suburbs is not how the album is a summation of my own life, but how different parts resonate with me at different times. When the album came out, I was in the process of defining who I may become inevitably down the road. Notions of “never trusting millionaires” and righteousness failing to “pay the interest on your debt” connected with me; practicality was more prioritized than previously, indicating a shift in both who I was, and who I needed to become. Gone were the days of spending countless hours dreaming of what I was to become, now I needed to put in the work to get there. When Butler sang of wasted hours, it felt like a mourning, as if there was an aspiration lost and it resulted in being stuck in that stage of suburbia, a real life purgatory. But with age, the closing words on the album seem louder, drowning out any other messages. Wasting time is a privilege and to waste it with good people is a blessing. We spend so much time regretting what we’ve never accomplished that moments are just some permutation of factors we dwell over, breaking down even the most insignificant plot. Too often “what if” trumps “what did.”
Music, to me, has always been about a feeling. After all the talk of technicality and mulling of melodies, a good song has that intangible quality that just triggers something. It’s a moment where the personal overlaps the senses for a full-bodied feeling of fulfillment. These are the songs that stick with you, not because you can’t stop thinking about them, but because a moment causes a relapse into that perfect memory. The Suburbs is as close to a mixtape of these songs as you can get. From opening to close, it’s a collection of tracks that tempt you to lollygag and lull into a haze of nostalgia.