Sunday, March 11, 2007

Neon Bible

Montreal's finest rock band, The Arcade Fire, has only boosted its reputation as indie hero with the release of their second full-length album. Neon Bible features two songs with partial French lyrics, weightier religious themes, and an expansion of musical sources. "Intervention" pulses with the verve of a pipe organ, while "My Body is a Cage," is backed by a gospel choir. Of course the violin and accordion return. Songs build melodic layers on top of one another until what emerges is much more than the mere parts.

If you dislike analysis of art, you should consider skipping to the last paragraph. If not, then by all means continue.

Perhaps the most significant shift from Funeral is the inclusion of explicitly religious language, imagery and themes. The title track "Neon Bible," seems to struggle with finding the place of Christianity within contemporary culture. The image of the red and black neon bible is something normally found on the Vegas strip rather than in a sanctuary. Does Christianity have to be flashy and exciting to attract attention? Didn't it work for The Passion of the Christ?

In some ways, it all feels antithetical to the image and feel presented by the band. This is not The Killers, Vegas' poster band, one of edgy clothing, makeup trends and power guitar hooks. That's who should have released a record called Neon Bible. Instead, we get the subtle genius of intermingled instruments and the casual fashion sense of a discount vintage shop or a discovered attic. Don't be jealous, Mr. Brightside.

If "Wake Up" established the group as authors of epic anthems, Neon Bible walks the balance beam of personal and universal without losing a sense of urgency or significance. "(Antichrist Television Blues)" tells the personal narrative of a man exploiting his daughter, all the while asking for divine affirmation. "Lord would you send me a sign/'cause I just gotta know if I'm wastin' my time." "Ocean of Noise" is a story of personal reconciliation encompassed by questions of free will versus determinism. "Black Mirror" laments the difficulty in escaping from the perceptions and language of the self. The black mirror "casts my reflection everywhere." Watch out, the black mirror might be you!

Yet throughout, the album manages to escape an introspective focus. "Keep the Car Running" bursts with pace, suggesting a temporance to life on earth, and expressing a sense of dissatisfaction with the way the world is. If anything sounds like a generational anthem, this is it. In this context, the inclusion of "No Cars Go," a revised song from the band's first, self-titled EP, makes perfect sense. I had always taken "No Cars Go," as a reference to Heaven. Like U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name," a literal Heaven may not be the only reference point. Rather, a convergence between earthly and divine—a meditative state—"between the click of the light and the start of the dream." Religious experience, especially in a culture that values bright city lights and shiny packages, is uncommon—but this album takes us there.

This is the best CD I have purchased this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if it survives as one of my all-time favorties.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Books Make You Fat...

CNN recently posted an article on how Pizza Hut may be contributing (deviously) to obesity in children through their reading program called Book It! Kids get a free pan pizza every time they meet a reading goal. As a student, I remember this program. I got a holographic button with star stickers on it. Since I read non-stop, I got lots of pepperoni pizzas. I am secretly hoping this comes to a class-action lawsuit. I'm not asking for much, Book It! (just a personal trainer).

Thursday, March 01, 2007

2006 Story Prize

Mary Gordon
won $20,000 for her career-spanning collection The Stories of Mary Gordon. The story that Gordon read during the award ceremony featured a podiatrist and a wolf mistaken for a dog. Tragic and funny! Actually, this is now going on my list of things to read. The list is pretty long and often interrupted by the psychology of love and attachment. Attached, but not in love. Fitter, happier, more productive. A pig, in a cage, on antibiotics (thanks Radiohead).

This is the largest monetary award given for fiction in the U.S. How nice would it be to win? I like that it is only open to collections of short stories. The New School in New York sponsors this competition, which debuted in 2004. Viva la short story.