Montreal art-rock collective The Arcade Fire creates a full-on song cycle on its debut album, Funeral, which recasts the group's biography as a quaint historical document. Percussionist-vocalist Régine Chassagne details her girlhood exile from her homeland in "Haiti," while on scattered tracks, Texas-born bandleader Win Butler refers to his adjustment to the Canadian cold. Throughout the first half of Funeral, on four songs called "Neighborhood" and their entr'acte "Une Année Sans Lumière," The Arcade Fire positions its members as a family of adventurers, braving the elements and inevitable mortality to convey a message about how wondrous life can be.
As a backdrop, the band generates whirling guitar-pop atmosphere on the same continuum as Neutral Milk Hotel, Radiohead, and The Shins, but not precisely like any of them. On "Neighborhood #2 (Laïka)," The Arcade Fire matches a tribal beat to clipped rhythmic guitar, overlaid with gently swaying accordion and periodic cacophonous blasts. Meanwhile, Butler shouts myth through a megaphone, bellowing lines like "Our older brother bit by a vampire / For a year we caught his tears in a cup" in a blankly jittery voice that recalls David Byrne's. The succeeding one-two of "Une Année Sans Lumière" and "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)" bounces from music-box lullaby to art-disco to convey the beauty and terrible fragility of a storm's aftermath.
Funeral's layering of sound and wide-eyed posing can be overly dense, and though the band utilizes nice melodies and lively arrangements, the nostalgia-steeped-indie-rock-orchestra pool was pretty much drained before The Arcade Fire dove in. Still, the style attracts new practitioners because it allows ambitious musicians to craft small, personal worlds packed with drama. The Arcade Fire's version may be common, but it's anything but humdrum.