Crafted during a period of deep grief, Arcade Fire’s debut miraculously overflows with guileless wonderment. Conceived with wanton disregard for “cool” and “hip,” the Montreal group’s baroque yet imminently grand musical sensibility and obtuse lyricism led to a paradigm shift in indie-rock, bringing an unlikely spotlight to its adoptive hometown of Montreal and a deluge of famous fans (Bono! Bowie! Coldplay!). But perhaps Funeral’s most abiding trait is its singularity — it sounds like nothing before it, nor anything since.
In honour of its place on CBC Music’s list of the 25 best Canadian debut albums, here are five things you need to know about Arcade Fire’s magnum opus, Funeral.
1. The album title is quite literal
A trio of deaths — Régine Chassagne's grandmother in June 2003, Win and William Butler's grandfather (guitar pioneer Alvino Rey) in February 2004, and Richard Reed Parry's aunt in April 2004 — haunted the writing and recording of the album, inspiring the album's music and its title.
2. ‘Wake Up’ owes its bombastic sound to Wolf Parade
“In my mind Wolf Parade was always the Nirvana of Montreal,” Win Butler recently told a crowd at his Red Bull Music Academy lecture in the Quebec city. When a drummer-less Arcade Fire set up to record what would eventually become the album’s emotional denouement, Butler drafted Wolf Parade drummer Arlen Thompson to give the song its orotund presence.
3. The iconic guitar sound on 'Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)' was an accident
Arcade Fire’s introduction to the world came by Funeral’s opening track and first single, which featured a haunting, distant lead guitar, giving the track an ethereal, nostalgic quality that has defined the band's sound ever since. But according to Win Butler, the effect was an accident. During the recording, engineer Howard Bilerman forgot to turn the mic on during Butler's best take.
”He only had the vocal mic on and it was on the other side of the room, and accidentally no one turned it off,” Butler later recalled. “That’s the track that’s on the record. If you really listen to it, it sounds insane, it almost sounds like a broken record.”
4. 'Rebellion (Lies)' was nearly released without snare
When he wasn’t engineering, Bilerman played drums on the album, leaving the rest of the group to hit record. After nailing a rather spirited take of breakthrough single “Rebellion (Lies),” a playback revealed the band had accidently unplugged Bilerman's snare mic.
“I said 'no that’s the take' and he said 'no, absolutely not, we can’t have a song without a snare,'" recalls Butler. "I was insisting it had the spirit, that it was the right take, so we overdubbed it with Régine playing the snare only. The weird sound of that song comes from the snare coming through the hi-hat and this snare overdub.”
5. The band's initial goal was to sell 10,000 records
Released on American indie label Merge Records, the band set a personal goal of selling 10,000 copies of Funeral. They hit it in the first week of release. To date, Funeral has sold more than 500,000 copies in the U.S. alone.
Follow Jonathan Dekel on Twitter: @Jondekel
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