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Writing About Music (Honors 345A)

This guide features essays written by students as part of the class Writing About Music (Honors 345A, Fall 2018).

Arcade Fire (Laila Weatherly)

Arcade Fire is, in my opinion, one of the most talented bands of our decade. The group holds this special place in my heart for a multitude of reasons, but the real deciding factor is their astonishing ability to sustain a firm presence in pop culture whilst maintaining an unfiltered, unabashedly unique sound. Their style is lyrically complex yet musically catchy, with an instrumentation that harkens back to a distinct 80’s new wave sound. Delving into every Arcade Fire song would be a long and quite honestly pointless endeavor, so the following is an exploration of four of their most quintessential tracks. 
 
Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
Serving as opener to the band’s critically acclaimed debut album, Funeral, “Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)” sets the nostalgic, thoughtful tone to be embraced wholeheartedly by Arcade Fire for years to come. The track begins with a solitary guitar line that soon morphs into a symphony of sound and a heartbreakingly ethereal melody, and it depicts a story of young love. This fairytale love story takes place in a snowstorm and serves as a childish escape, chronicling the speaker’s journey to a hazy, apocalyptic world. He says he’ll “dig a tunnel from my window to yours” and live out an alternate reality in which he and his love “let their hair grow long and forget all they used to know”. The repeated choral lines “you change all the lead/sleeping in my head to gold” are both dark and beautifully pure, summing up the theme of the song as a whole. 
 
Wake Up
Wake Up is another archetypal track on Arcade Fire’s Funeral. Featured (fittingly) on The Secret Life of Walter Mitty soundtrack, this song explores the emotions associated with growing up and seeing life for what it is after departing from childhood- “now that I’m older/ my heart’s colder/ and I can see than it’s a lie”. While Neighborhood #1 views the world through a childish lense, Wake Up moves past this and explores the repression and sadness associated with adulthood- “our bodies get bigger, but our hearts get torn up”.
 
The Suburbs
The namesake of Arcade Fire’s 2010 release, The Suburbs, opens with an upbeat, catchy piano tune sustained for the entirety of the song while lead vocalist Win Butler employs an impressive range and falsetto. Lyrically, the track is nostalgic for the simple innocence of teenage suburban life amidst the fading glory and impermanence of adulthood. The speaker informs us that “in the suburbs/[he] learned drive”, and later, that he’d like to have a daughter while he’s still young so he can “show her some beauty before the damage is done”. The Suburbs as a track is illustrative of the album in its entirety, drawing on a reflective yet dull suburban sentiment that evokes a childish sincerity. 
 
Deep Blue
Deep Blue is considerably less popular than many other Arcade Fire tracks, but deserves to be included nevertheless.The most interesting aspect of this song is far and away its allusion to the infamous (yet decidedly niche) Kasparov vs. Deep Blue chess match in 1996/7. For some background, this event was a series of chess matches between world champion Garry Kasparov and IBM’s revolutionary supercomputer, coined “Deep Blue”, in which it was decided that the two were quite equally matched. Arcade Fire uses this reference to explore the rise of technology and artificial intelligence; lyrically, the track actually reads like an opinion piece on the technological revolution of the 21st century. In the end, the song criticizes this advent, advising listeners to step back and return to nature: “put the cellphone down for a while/in the night there is something wild/can you hear it breathing?”

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