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Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2004 08:28 pm

sound patrol 11-25-04

Soul-scorching redemption

Arcade Fire Funeral (Merge)

Arcade Fire

Funeral, the first CD from Montreal's the Arcade Fire, came out in September, and already it's induced scores of worshipful music writers to churn out drool-slick paeans to the young sextet's astonishing genius. Hard as it is to imagine that any band could live up to the hype, somehow this one does. One of those rare groups that conjures up a host of impossibly disparate influences (Pavement, New Order, the Velvet Underground, the Cure, the Talking Heads, the Go-Betweens, Neutral Milk Hotel) without relinquishing its originality, the Arcade Fire contains multitudes. And, like all serious works of art, Funeral contradicts itself, gaining strength and momentum from conflicting energies: death and regeneration, anger and love, displacement and asylum, despair and hope.

While the band was recording the CD, several family members died, hence the album title. Although many of the songs are about loss, the mood is anything but funereal. Built on the husband-and-wife juggernaut of co-vocalists Win Butler and Régine Chassagne, the Arcade Fire harnesses guitar, piano, glockenspiel, violin, and accordion in the service of a sound that's symphonic and raucous, sloppy and majestic, chaotic and yet fully realized. The bilingual duet "Une Année sans Lumière" ("A Year Without Light") is both melancholy and hopeful, a love song that starts out pretty and fragile and builds to a cacophonous climax. Another highlight, the darkly gorgeous "Crown of Love," begins as a fairly conventional piano ballad and then adds sweeping strings and dramatic, Spectorish drums before it culminates in a relentless two-chord coda. "Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)" combines a warped country & western lament with what sounds like an string quartet tuning up in the background, and "Rebellion (Lies)" weds twitchy post-punk minimalism to glorious neopsych drone. Chassagne sings lead on two of the CD's best songs: "Haiti," an ode to her parents' tragic homeland, and "In the Backseat," a delicate meditation on mortality. The perfect counterpart to Butler's theatrical baritone, Chassagne's papery soprano sounds insubstantial at first, but it's surprisingly versatile, her childlike lilt giving way to the demonic ululations of some exotic bird. Overall, Funeral is one of the most impressive debuts in recent memory: soul-scorching redemption in 48 minutes.

She Like Electric
(Pattern 25)

In a world populated by grown women pretending to be little girls and little girls pretending to be grown women, there's something refreshing about the concept of girls qua girls. Enter 12-year-old singer/keyboardist Asya (pronounced "Aussie") and 10-year-old drummer Chloe. Two years ago, at the suggestion of Chloe's drum teacher (who just happens to be Death Cab for Cutie drummer Jason McGerr), the Seattle-based sisters formed Smoosh. While their classmates played with Bratz dolls and watched Hilary Duff movies, Asya and Chloe wrote songs and honed their developing chops, snagging high-profile opening gigs with such indie-rock hotshots as Sleater-Kinney, Nada Surf, and Cat Power. Any way you look at that backstory, Smoosh makes for good ink; what's surprising is that these girls are actually good.

She Like Electric, the duo's spare but far-from-primitive debut, is an engaging amalgam of innocence and sophistication. There aren't a lot of overdubs or fancy production fillips or contributions from well-meaning grownups: It's just Asya's synth and Chloe's drums and 14 strange little songs that range from dissonant post-punk serenades to goofy raps (imagine a G-rated, irony-free Peaches). Asya's nasal soprano drifts and meanders, following quirky melodies and unpredictable progressions, while Chloe provides thoughtful fills and a sturdy backbone. It's not always easy to discern what Asya's singing about -- she mumbles and slurs her way through phrases like the shy kid at choir practice -- but the effect is mysterious and charming, a glimpse at the real preoccupations and passions of the preteen mind.

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