Why Arcade Fire is the most important band in North America

With Arcade Fire’s release Friday of its new album, “Everything Now,” the music world exhales.

“Everything Now” is arguably the most highly-anticipated rock record of the year. Its lead single (the title track) has already hit No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart, and pre-release hype alone guarantees it will sell.

But I suspect it will also be a very controversial release, not so much because of the quality of the music, but rather because of who Arcade Fire is, who the band used to be and what some critics mulishly wish it still was.

The truth is this: Arcade Fire is the most important North American group making music today.

The Montreal-based band led by guitarist/vocalist Win Butler and French-Haitian multinstrumentalist Régine Chassagne is a family affair: Butler and Chassagne are married, and Butler’s younger brother Will is also part of the group alongside guitarist Richard Reed-Parry, bassist Tim Kingsbury, drummer Jeremy Gara and a string section frontline, all of whom have known one another for over a decade and a half.

Imagine a modern-rock version of The Band, with the communal multi-instrumental swapping, US/Canadian cultural interplay, subconscious emotional power and conscious striving for grandeur that comparison entails. Arcade Fire shows are famous for their sweaty catharsis, and the band’s track record (beginning with its 2004 debut Funeral, a consensus pick as one of the most important records of the 2000s) is fiercely compelling. While its indie-rock competitors fell away, Arcade Fire kept going.

Yet, it’s the band’s turning away from those indie-rock roots, towards a musical style centered around dance music, deep grooves and electro-pop that has generated controversy in recent years.

All great bands are like sharks: the minute they stop moving forward, they die creatively. And while Arcade Fire has arguably always been a Secret Dance Band (you can hear it on the band’s debut LP), it was only with 2013’s…

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