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My Favorite Albums of 2017

Favorite Albums of 2017

IS TIME FLYING BY OR WHAT?! But seriously though, I know a lot of people think 2017 was worse than 2016, but for me, it was a year of growth, rebuilding and renewal, and I feel pretty great about it; I’m still emo, I’m still gay, but sometimes you gotta go through the darkness to see the light, right?

You could say the same for some of the artists and the albums that appear on this list, which are my favorite albums of the year. I say favorite, not top, because let’s be honest, there are other albums that came out this year that might be considered “technically” better than the ones on my list. Even the order of my list could be argued, but fuck it, they’re listed based on how much I love them, not who is a better artist or band, etc.

Anyway, back to that going through the darkness thing – lots of these albums are long-awaited returns for bands and artists that went through similar emotional journeys (or just needed a fucking break), so maybe that’s why some mean more than others to me. At any rate, I’m just happy that good, thoughtful music continues to exist in a world that increasingly doesn’t make much sense. And so, here are my favorite albums of 2017.

20. Sufjan Stevens – The Greatest Gift / Planetarium / Carrie & Lowell Live

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To say that this was a prolific year for Sufjan would be an understatement. While I know that putting his three releases this year all at number 20 is cheating (and that’s not even counting “Tonya Harding”), there was just too much good stuff not to recognize on this list, and all three of these albums now hold a special place in my heart (and in my Sufjan library).

Favorite Tracks: “Exploding Whale (Doveman Remix)” / “Mercury” / “Should Have Known Better (Live)”

19. Arcade Fire – Everything Now

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Yes, it falls flat in the middle and there’s not excuse for a song as lame as “Peter Pan,” but the good stuff in Everything Now is really good. “We Don’t Deserve Love” never fails to stop me dead in my tracks.

Favorite Track: “We Don’t Deserve Love”

18. Spoon – Hot Thoughts

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I mean they couldn’t not be on this list, sooooooooooo…

Favorite Track: “Tear It Down”

17. St. Vincent – MASSEDUCATION

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Mostly just because of The New Yorker’s profile on her, but also because Annie fucking rules.

Favorite Track: “New York”

16. Conor Oberst – Salutations

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I was lucky enough to see Mr. Oberst perform in Denver this summer, and the songs on Salutations absolutely thrived when played live. Also, nostalgia, ya know? ALSO, any album that name checks John Muir AND Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin is a winner in my mind.

Favorite Track: “Barbary Coast (Later)”

15. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

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Obligatory, but well deserving.

Favorite Track: “PRIDE”

14. Perfume Genius – No Shape

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Like, holy CHIC! Super fun and sexy and enduring album.

Favorite Track: “Valley”

13. LCD Soundsystem – american dream

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My personal american dream was fulfilled this summer dancing to “All My Friends” with all my friends at Pitchfork Music Festival, so that’s cool. american dream also slaps.

12. Cigarettes After Sex – Cigarettes After Sex

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There’s a song literally called “K.” K.

Favorite Track: “Sweet”

11. Laura Marling – Semper Femina

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I’ve always been a big Laura Marling fan, and Semper Femina finds the artist at the top of her game. The album even earned her a Grammy nomination – chic for her!

Favorite Track: “Nothing, Not Nearly”

10. The National – Sleep Well Beast

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Because nothing fits depression better than The National!

Favorite Track: “I’ll Still Destroy You”

9. Lorde – Melodrama

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But like who’s the 31 year old that inhabits Lorde’s body? For real though, this albummmmmmm. Soundtrack for a generation I tell ya.

Favorite Track: “Supercut”

8. Rostam – Half-Light

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Listening to this album is like being curled up under a down comforter in some really good lighting with some chic candle burning, and who doesn’t love that? And in these dividing times, what’s a more enduring line than “Everyone of us has felt the lights go down”?

Favorite Track: “EOS”

7. Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins

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I mean my Wi-Fi network was named Central and Remote forever – it was also the original name of this blog – so yeah, I am a bit of a Grizzly Bear fanboy. Admittedly, Painted Ruins is still growing on me, however it’s also provided a great reminder of how talented this band is, and I’m glad they decided to come out of hibernation when we needed them the most.

Favorite Track: Tossup between “Neighbors” and “Sky Took Hold”

6. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

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It’s scary how well this man can lyricize basically every trope about American society and our downfall as humans while making it all sound funny, lovely and heartbreaking at the same time.

Favorite Track: “Total Entertainment Forever”

5. The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding

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Really honestly I don’t think a guitar solo has made me weep until this album came around and now there’s three of them on here that do just that. I also don’t think I’ve ever felt as blissed out as I have while listening to “Thinking of a Place” while driving in the mountains.

Favorite Track: “Strangest Thing”

4. Aimee Mann – Mental Illness

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I credit Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space” as playing a major role in my personal “musical awakening” in high school. And while there have been great Aimee Mann albums since then, Mental Illness is the first one that leaves me feeling as shook as I felt back in 2003.

Favorite Track: “You Never Loved Me”

3. Feist – Pleasure

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I had been anticipating a new album from Feist since 2011’s Metals became my standby lakeside companion in Chicago. Pleasure was well worth the wait, and I’m happy for its existence every day.

Favorite Track: “Baby Be Simple”

2. Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life

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Lana’s just always kinda been my (and every other gay man’s) thing. I really don’t understand how she releases a new album every other year and they just keep getting better and better. Lust For Life is like, peak Lana, even though I hope the peaks just keep coming like they have been. It’s got everything – breathy ballads, Lana saying “fuck,” a song about drugs and marzipan, trip-hop beats, beaches, music festivals, and “Get Free,” a song that came to define my outlook on 2017 and life in general, a “modern manifesto” that got LANA TO SMILE ON THE ALBUM COVER.

Favorite Track: “Get Free”

1. Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up

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It was really looking like Fleet Foxes might not ever return, so when the rumors of a new album started swirling around, I tried not to get my hopes up. Then I saw Robin Pecknold open for Joanna Newsom at The Boulder Theater last year, and that had to mean something, right? Little did I know that I was hearing him sing a handful of songs he was working on for what would become Crack-Up, my favorite album of the year, one that exceeded all of my hopes and dreams for what I’d want in new Fleet Foxes material. I really don’t have much to add to what’s already been written about Crack-Up by much more talented writers other than to say the one-two punch of “On Another Ocean (January / June)” and “Fools Errand” reduces me to a puddle of goo every single time. Endless gratitude to these gentlemen for making music, and my favorite album of 2017.

Favorite Track: “Fools Errand”

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Top 30 Albums of 2013

What a weird fucking year for music. What looked good on paper sadly translated into the not-so-impressive on the ears: 2013 was the year that everyone released an album; 2013 was also the year that everyone flopped.

Let’s look at the many notable names in music that missed their mark in 2013: Phoenix, Youth Lagoon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Deerhunter, Major Lazer, Fall Out Boy (jokes), The-Dream, Camera Obscura, Ciara, Jay-Z, Goldfrapp, MGMT, Britney Spears (this kills me), Lady Gaga, Cults, the return of Justin Timberlake…even the full length from Sky Ferreira didn’t live up to the magic of her EP.

And yet, where many stumbled, a few lived up to the hype, or lack thereof in the case of Beyoncé. Some overcame doubts that they could pull off another masterpiece. And plenty of room was left for newcomers to show the established set just how to make real music. Yes, there’s lots of familiar names on my list, but I was also fortunate to be exposed to brand new artists for the first time through live shows and word of mouth, a method of discovering music that closes the personal loop you have with certain tunes.

And so, while the year in music didn’t exactly shape up the way I expected it too, I’m pleasantly surprised by the results and am left hungry for what 2014 has in store.

30. HAIM – Days Are Gone

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Wilson Phillips-esque is always chic, but these ladies are talented in their own right with unexpectedly different records like “My Song 5.”

 

 

 

29. Kurt Vile – Wakin On a Pretty Daze

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The perfect soundtrack for unemployment, especially if you’re able to wander around Chicago’s lakefront. Weird, that was my life. Also one of the most warmly-produced albums of the year, and I don’t hate it.

 

 

 

28. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

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It’s about all of it, but it’s really all about “Jubilee Street.” Dead.

 

 

 

 

27. Bill Callahan – Dream River

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A master songwriter returns with another provocative collection of songs that magically fits perfectly with the scenery of Colorado, so that’s chic for me.

 

 

 

26. The National – Trouble Will Find Me

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Not gonna lie, I was a little disappointed by this release, but you still can’t deny that The National are really, really good at what they do. Maybe it’s just time for them to try something a little bit different the next time around. “Pink Rabbits” also kills.

 

 

 

25. Arctic Monkeys – AM

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Who knew these guys would still be relevant all these years after “Fluorescent Adolescent” took over the radio, but the Arctic Monkeys’ AM was one of the most solid rock albums of 2013.

 

 

 

24. Daft Punk – Random Access Memories

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Yes we’re all sick of “Get Lucky,” but there’s a reason why it blew up. Daft Punk finally returned in 2013 with the most slickly-produced odes to glam disco 70s funky chic with a roster of impressive guests to boot. Was it what everyone was hoping for in a new Daft Punk album? No, but it’s perfect in terms of what they were going for.

 

 

23. Laura Marling – Once I Was an Eagle

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I don’t even know, she’s just really damn good at what she does.

 

 

 

 

22. Caveman – Caveman

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I didn’t even know about this band until I caught their act while opening for Rogue Wave (moments) at Lincoln Hall this past June. I’m really glad I went early (when you go to a majority of shows alone, it’s easier to drink at the venue then alone in your apartment…awkward) because I can’t stop playing their self-titled LP. Glowing melodies fuzzy keys and emo subject matter – I can totally get down with that and you should too.

 

 

21. CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

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Obligatory, but it’s also a great album.

 

 

 

 

20. Iron & Wine – Ghost On Ghost

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Sam Beam decided he also had to throw his hat in the ring in 2013, but he actually made a great album with Ghost On Ghost. Songs like “New Mexico’s No Breeze” and “Joy,” which had a killer music video to boot, are worth the price of admission alone.

 

 

 

19. Neko Case – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You

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She must have been going for a Fiona Apple-esque vibe with that album title, and while it’s definitely not Neko’s best album, it’s a solid entry in an outstanding catalog of music.

 

 

 

18. Rhye – Woman

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Made up of Milosh and Robin Hannibal, Rhye’s Woman came out of nowhere and blew most listeners away, me being one of them. It also didn’t hurt that the group’s super exclusive show at Schubas was one of the best I’ve seen all year.

 

 

 

17. Atoms for Peace – Amok

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This is what Thom Yorke’s Eraser should have sounded like, although I like them both. Whatever.

 

 

 

16. Majical Cloudz – Impersonator

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I mean baiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii. Talk about emo moments. But really, it’s quite something to hear what Devon Welsh and his producer / collaborator Matthew Otto can do with the most minimal of elements.

 

 

 

15. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – II

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These are all supposed to be my top albums of 2013, but UMO’s II is definitely a favorite. But like really, “So Good At Being In Trouble,” “Monki,” “Secret Xtians.” Are you kidding me?

 

 

 

14. The Dodos – Carrier

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I’ve mentioned this a few times on this blog that I hardly pay attention to anymore, but The Dodos are special not only because I love them, but because they were the subject of the first review I ever wrote. They disappointed with 2011’s No Color, but thankfully came back better than ever with Carrier, which is best digested in a solid listen from start to finish. It’s good to hear the group channeling the loss of guitarist Christopher Reimer into such beautiful art – putting the medium to its best possible use. Also bittersweet – the last show I saw at my home away from home, Lincoln Hall, was headlined by The Dodos; A fitting bookend to my life at that moment.

 

13. Night Beds – Country Sleep

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Lead by Winston Yellen, newcomers Night Beds tugged at the heartstrings with Country Sleep.  These are the types of songs you’d hear on The OC before the rest of humanity discovered them only because of said show, and yet they also avoid sounding clichéd. Also check out the super disturbing video for “Even If We Try.” Oh, also, my friend totally could have gone back to Winston’s hotel room the night they played the Varsity in Minneapolis, so that’s fun.

 

 

12. Disclosure – Settle

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Another debut in a list of amazing debuts in 2013, Disclosure’s Settle was, by far, the best dance record released this year, and then Beyoncé had to come and mess everything up if you’re into more of an R&B flavor. But really, can we talk about “Latch” or “Defeated” or “You & Me” or “Help Me Lose My Mind” or really every track on this album, because damn.

 

 

11. Indians – Somewhere Else

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Maybe it’s the chic album art that I wouldn’t mind having framed, maybe it’s the delicate yet slightly kooky vocals from Søren Løkke Juul (not to mention the kooky name, but whatever he’s from Copenhagen so act cool), maybe it’s the melancholy melodies backed by subtle electronics to make the whole thing grander, but Somewhere Else is certainly something else, in the best way possible.

 

 

10. Drake – Nothing Was the Same

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I really didn’t want to like this album. Perhaps I was getting a little sick of Drake and I didn’t want anything to overshadow the amazingness that was and still is Take Care. But Nothing Was the Same is like, really, really good you guys. I still kind of don’t want it to be as good as it is, but damn, he cracked my top 10. Bravo.

 

 

9. Local Natives – Hummingbird

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After breaking out with the brilliant Gorilla Manor, I’m really happy Local Natives avoided the dreaded sophomore slump and came out ahead with Hummingbird. And while it doesn’t offer much in terms of innovation, Hummingbird makes up for that in perfecting the direction of the band and setting excellent expectations with songs like “Ceilings,” “You & I” and the devastating “Colombia.”

 

 

8. Phosphorescent – Muchacho

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If landscapes could sing songs, they would sound like those grouped together on Muchacho. It sounds new yet rustic at the same time, like you’ve heard these songs in a past life or something. Muchacho is beaten up, triumphant, free-wheeling and wistful – all the makings for one of the best albums of the year.

 

 

7. Arcade Fire – Reflektor

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The expectations for this album were incredibly high, thanks to a viral campaign, “secret” shows, track listing leaks, and lots and lots of ad money. Ultimately, Reflektor fell short for many. Have Arcade Fire jumped the shark? Maybe. Our quaint little indie band are now playing arenas on the next tour and have a much larger sound to match. Yet isn’t this the complaint aimed at every band who were once someone’s secret that now everyone enjoys? It isn’t all bad, and Win Butler seems to know exactly what he and the rest of the group are to do with this newfound superstardom. And there’s still no denying the pockets of genius found throughout Reflektor, with the title track being one of my favorites of 2013. Maybe I’m a little jaded that the secret’s fully out in the open, but I think we’ll get a clearer picture of what Arcade Fire is turning into (or has become) with a follow-up, whenever that happens.

 

6. Blood Orange – Cupid Deluxe

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Like, this is almost a perfect album. There’s really not much more I can say.

 

 

 

 

5. James Blake – Overgrown

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James Blake traded in the dubstep sound of his first proper LP for a more R&B flavored sound on Overgrown, and it pays off in dividends. Overgrown is a multi-textured album that has the ability to fully launch the listener into a dark, seductive atmosphere. It’s an album full of surprises, twists and turns that remind us why Blake is one of the best in the business.

 

 

4. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

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A familiar name that actually pulled through in 2013. People love to hate Vampire Weekend, but why? I think it’s jealousy. Insanely talented, good looking, smart guys that make great fucking music with a sound that is distinctly their own, Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City is familiar enough while also offering something fresh over previous releases. It’s like a really solid piece of furniture. Don’t even get me started on “Hannah Hunt.”

 

 

3. Beyoncé – BEYONCÉ

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Even though it’s not the number one album, Beyoncé’s surprise (that’s an understatement) “visual album” clearly won 2013. If there was ever a time to use the term “tour de force” to describe an album, let alone the full Beyoncé Experience that was dropped on humanity as the clock struck midnight on December 13, this would be the occasion.

Not only is the album 14 songs long, but there’s a full on music video for each song (and then some). And these aren’t just like, go-pro handycam bullshit videos. Oh, and on top of all of that, the album slays. It’s her best work yet, sounding current without overplayed while also pushing some sonic boundaries.

In an age of massive pre-release promotions that have the potential to do more damage than good (see every other major release from well-established artists this year), Beyoncé and her team were able to create an event akin to when Radiohead released In Rainbows. It shows her dedication to not only the craft, but also the meaning of music and its ability to bring people together. Don’t be jealous.

 

2. Volcano Choir – Repave

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God damn Justin Vernon. I remember seeing Volcano Choir perform their first ever show at The Cedar in Minneapolis back in 2011. Since Justin Vernon was involved, the crowd was a who’s who of the Minneapolis music scene and Bon Iver fanboys, all trying to get a taste of whatever Vernon had his fingers on those days.

The show was awesome, but it was basically one giant, live experiment, similar to the entire structure of Unmap. Certainly, this wasn’t music for the mainstream and would remain one of Vernon’s many side projects with his buddies.

Ugh, that notion was so wrong, and what a difference two years makes. After seeing Volcano Choir perform at The Metro in Chicago in support of Repave, we now find the group as a fully-formed juggernaut, complete with a live show that employs a beautifully-designed lighting concept cascading off of a cave-like backdrop, with Vernon planted behind a pulpit, preaching to raptured audiences. The songs on Repave are no longer experiments in sound and electronics. These are lovely, anthemic, powerful songs that serve as a call to arms. Vernon, for the most part, ditches the falsetto, belting out lines like “set sail,” pleading with the listener to “repave, repave, repave, repave,” and to “shed skin.”

It’s as if Vernon is shedding the persona of Bon Iver, and he very well may be according to some recent interviews. He’s at the helm now of a different, more powerful ship now, and that plasters a giant smile on my face.

 

1. Kanye West – Yeezus

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I’ve already dropped the mic on this album back in June, but once again, Kanye West has released the album of the year – an album that sounds like nothing else and pushes forward a very specific agenda about status and race in America. In closing, and in true Kanye form, Imma quote my previous post on Yeezus:

When Kanye first tweeted that he would be projecting new music at specific locations across the country, I dropped what I was doing and headed up the street to Wrigley Field, not knowing what to expect. In true Kanye form, the projection of “New Slaves” started an hour late. I tried to be as in the moment as possible while also trying to decipher what this new sound was and listening intently to the subject matter of what is a very deep song. Then, out of nowhere, in slammed the sample of Omega’s “Gyöngyhajú Lány.” It’s quite a beautiful and somewhat profound moment, actually, and felt more that way as me and 50 other people stared at the entrance of Wrigley Field with jaws dropped, while Kanye and Frank Ocean crooned “So let’s get too high, get too high again.” It may not be the same type of high that Dark Fantasy gave the world – Yeezus is a high of a very different sort. And thank God – At least none of us are bored anymore.

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Arcade Fire @ Roy Wilkins 9.22.10

Arcade Fire rocked the leftover confetti from Sunday’s Flaming Lips concert out of the rafters at the Roy Wilkins Auditorium on Wednesday night, uniting fans of all ages with their anthemic music for just under two hours.

To say the show was high energy would be an understatement – all eight members of the group looked like they were pouring their hearts and souls into each song throughout the evening, working through the themes present in the music (love, death, the pains of growing up) along with the audience.  All those on stage, including the violin players still feverously bowing their instruments, would join in with lead singer Win Butler to create the loveliest sounding choruses.

The show started appropriately with “Ready to Start” from The Suburbs, moving to “No Cars Go” which really started to show off the amazing set Arcade Fire has devised for the tour: an LED screen designed to look like a billboard on a highway, with a giant backdrop on which a scene of highway overpasses blended with changing imagery related to the different songs.  When Régine Chassagne took to the front of the stage to perform a lovely rendition of “Haiti,” billowing palm trees filled the screen, bathed in red, yellow and green lights that mimicked the color hues found on the album cover art for The Suburbs. While performing “We Used to Wait,” the screen filled with video of hand written notes, pamphlets and other written materials featuring old school typefaces all swirling about as the song built to a climax.

Surprisingly, the only song that seemed to be lost on the audience was “Month of May,” one of the hardest rocking cuts on The Suburbs, but the momentum picked right up again as this was followed by “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” Chassagne again taking lead vocals, joyously spinning around on stage with streamers flowing all around her.

The main set ended with “Keep the Car Running” before the band came back on stage for a three-song encore that included “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” and  “Suburban War.”

The fact that the concert was set in the middle of highway overpasses that could be located in Anywhere, USA, set the tone of escapism found throughout the song choices, something nearly everyone could relate to, providing a cathartic moment for the audience to let go and rebel.  Rebel against the pain of death, the confusion of growing up and feelings of anger and sadness, and to embrace happiness.

All of this happened during closing number “Wake Up.”  A true moment of catharsis, everyone at the show sang their lungs out along with the band, singing the lyric “I guess we’ll just have to adjust” as if admitting to one another that life definitely has its ups and downs, but moments like being at an Arcade Fire show make it seem like everything in the end will be ok.

Not too shabby for the opening night of a tour.

Below – A little video of the band’s performance of “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels).”

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Album Review: Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

9.5 out of 10

It’s heartbreaking, really.

Upon listening to the bouncy, piano driven yet melancholy lead track from Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, it’s clear to see just what the hell is going on inside the 30-year-old mind of Win Butler.  Feelings of childhood memories lost, being tied to The Man just to make ends meet, wishing he actually had time to waste.  This is an album about becoming an adult, which is pretty much summed up when Butler, sounding more sorrowful than ever, confesses, “So can you understand?  I want a daughter while I’m still young,” complete with a dramatic pause in the lyrics as the strings stir beneath the beat.

If you were a cast member of “The Hills,” you might call this time in your life a quarter-life crisis.  And as absurd as the term may sound (what do 20/30 somethings have to worry about), it’s exactly the story that The Suburbs tells throughout its 16 tracks.  And it’s not absurd.  Put this on at a time when you’re feeling particularly nostalgic, and its like taking a dagger to the heart, in a good way.

These feelings are detailed in the most cathartic of ways on tracks like “Wasted Hours,” which looks back on those very times of having no real direction, doing nothing with friends and “wasting” time.

“We Used To Wait,” finds Butler becoming keenly aware of how much life has changed since those times, remembering how he “used to waste hours just walking around,” and how he “used to sleep at night,” with a relentless piano chords moving everything forward with no sign of stopping.

The fact that all of these feelings are tied to the suburbs themselves, the places where most of us grew up, where roads seemed to go on forever and boredom was commonplace, is the most poignant statement of the album.  Most people are taught to despise the suburbs, yet it’s the fact is these are the places where anything seemed possible while growing up.

These feelings are supported sonically as well, where gorgeous melodies also have a nervous edge to them.  In form, the band has never sounded better.  Sure, the references to Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen are there, but Butler and company makes the sound their own.  The quintessential Arcade Fire anthems abound, yet these tunes seem more thought out and contemplated.  And although most of the music could be describes as downtrodden, the band busts everything out for “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),” a celebratory dance track that sounds like the work of Goldfrapp, yet fits perfectly within the context of the album as a whole.  This is an album to be listened to straight through from start to finish, each song supporting the next in ways that become more clear with repeat listens.

The story of the album comes full circle with the closing track “The Suburbs (continued).”  The same melody that drove the saloon piano in the opening track is reinvented with strings and deep bass that seem to be submerged under water.  Throughout the album, there is a lot of talk about the wasting of time, regretting moments lost, waiting around for something to happen, to grow up.  And yet, if you had the time back, what would you do with it?

“If I could have it back / all the time that we wasted / I’d only waste it again / If I could have it back / You know I would love to waste it again / Waste it again, again and again…”

Do yourself a favor:  Get in your car, drive out of the city and waste some time with this album.

Key Tracks:

Seriously, you have to listen to this all the way through from start to finish.

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