Neon Bible: An Ocean of Noise
UPDATE: This article was written and published before the sexual assault accusations against Win Butler were reported by Pitchfork.com. I, in no way, condone or support the alleged actions of Butler. As with every instance of abuse and/or sexual assault, I stand with the victims until proven otherwise.
I can’t remember how or where I first heard about Arcade Fire, but I do remember that the first song I heard from them was “Wake Up”, which is off of their first album, Funeral. This album was quite elusive; I can remember going to several stores looking for it and always coming up short. You might be wondering why I didn’t just download the album. Well, at that time, there was just something about buying it in person, something that was becoming a thing of the past. I don’t know why I was searching high and low for an album from a band that I had no clue about, but I eventually found a copy of the CD, and it was all love moving forward. This Canadian band burrowed a space in my musical heart, and they’ve been nurturing me ever since.
By the time Neon Bible was released, Arcade Fire had grown out its fan base and were extremely well-known on the indie rock scene. Unlike Funeral, Neon Bible had a more substantial release due to their rise in popularity, and the album was easy to find. As I slid the disc into my car radio, I was suddenly transported to imaginary places where each track would fit perfectly. “Neon Bible” is a song that is perfect for a late-night, solitary drive. The song is very simplistic with hushed drum beats in the background, and gently bowing violins, while lead singer Win Butler almost whispers:
A vial of hope and a vial of pain
In the light they both looked the same
Poured them out on into the world
On every boy and every girl
“Black Wave/Bad Vibrations” is a two part song. The first half is sung by Régine Chassagne, known for playing the accordion, as well as being married to Butler. Her half of the song has an almost merry-go-round quality of saccharine whimsy, but there is a dark undercurrent going through it in the form of the electric guitar. Eventually, the darkness takes over as Butler steps up to the mic. The song takes on a heavier sound and feel. Suddenly, I am on a ship at sea, lost in the night, as a storm threatens to capsize my boat. Chassagne’s background vocals of hitting high ‘oohhss” and “aahhhss”, while a triangle is tapped repeatedly, creates an almost chaotic feeling.
Then, it seamlessly transitions into “Ocean of Noise” and I’m sitting in an empty room on the floor, framed pictures on the wall of a life that used to exist. The thing that strikes me about this song are the lyrics. Yes, the music is exquisite, but the lyrics take the cake with this one. Essentially, it’s about a man who was powerless to falling in love when Butler sings:
In an ocean of noise
I first heard your voice
Now who here among us
Still believes in choice?
But, the romance is fading. The man is trying to desperately hold onto what he once had with his lover, who is seemingly trying to leave the man behind. As the lyrics point out:
You’ve got your reasons
And, me — I’ve got mine
But all the reasons I gave
Were just lies to buy myself some time
And, finally, the song ends with Butler tragically singing “I’m gonna work it out” over and over. God, what an amazing song, both lyrically and instrumentally.
To top it off, Neon Bible contains, in my opinion, one of Arcade Fire’s most well-known and amazing songs, “No Cars Go”. I am literally brought to tears every time I hear this song because it is so fucking beautiful. Horns and violins bring this song to a frenzied and extraordinary climax, as I can imagine running down a city street at night, stop lights blazing in the dark. By the time I get to the end of the song, the overwhelming power of the instruments has completely destroyed me in the most joyous and emotional ways.
I was lucky enough to see Arcade Fire in concert, and when they played this song, the arena felt like it was going to explode from the crowd’s energy. It was truly magical, just like this band, just like this album, just like the places Arcade Fire’s music can take you if you just imagine it.