A combination of indie rock muscle and theatrical, unapologetic bombast turned Arcade Fire into indie royalty in the early 2000s. Originally comprised of Régine Chassagne, Richard Parry, Tim Kingsbury, and brothers William and Win Butler, the group formed during the summer of 2003, after Win spotted Chassagne singing jazz standards at a Montreal art exhibit. The grandson of famed swing-era bandleader Alvino Rey, Win was quickly charmed by Chassagne’s performance, leading the two to launch a songwriting partnership. Romance followed shortly thereafter, and the duo expanded its sound by gathering Parry on organ, Kingsbury on bass, and Win Butler’s younger brother, William, on synthesizer and percussion. Drawing from the bandmates’ varied influences, Arcade Fire began mining an eclectic mix of bossa nova, punk, French chanson, and classically tinged pop music, referencing everything from U2’s passion to David Bowie’s eclecticism in the process.
Arcade Fire issued a self-titled EP in 2003, having briefly retreated to Maine for the recording sessions. Propelled by Win Butler’s quavering vocals and his bandmates’ symphonic swells, the disc helped earn the band an official offer from Merge Records. The bandmates’ luck faltered later that year, however, when Chassagne’s grandmother passed away. The Butler brothers’ grandfather followed suit in March 2004, and Parry’s aunt died one month later. Seeking catharsis in the studio, the members of Arcade Fire funneled their energies into the creation of Funeral. Released in September 2004, the debut album was met with unanimous acclaim — both commercially and critically — and Arcade Fire found themselves maintaining a nearly constant presence on the road, playing such high-profile festivals as Lollapalooza and Coachella between a slew of smaller club dates. They also appeared on the cover of Time magazine’s Canadian edition, garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Album, rubbed shoulders with superfan David Bowie, and toured alongside U2.
Following an exhausting year, Arcade Fire decamped to a church outside of Montreal to work on a second release. The ambitious Neon Bible arrived in March 2007, featuring such grand ornamentations as a pipe organ, a military choir, and a full orchestra. The album peaked at number two and sparked another tour, which found the band playing more than 120 shows over the course of a year. When touring wrapped up in early 2008, Arcade Fire played several shows in support of presidential candidate Barack Obama before beginning work on a third album. The resulting Suburbs, an eclectic 16-track ode to childhood, suburban sprawl, and middle-class dreams both won and lost, arrived on August 2, 2010. The record was universally acclaimed and reached number one in both the U.S. and U.K. album charts. The following year they won a host of awards, including prestigious accolades such as a Grammy for Album of the Year, the Polaris Prize, and BRIT awards for both Best International Album and Group, among other honors and nominations.
Their success followed them on the road as they sold out shows across the globe, and in 2011 they released a deluxe version of Suburbs that included a short film — titled Scenes from the Suburbs — directed by Spike Jonze. They began work on their fourth release in 2012 and enlisted LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy for production duties. The critically acclaimed double album, entitled Reflektor, was released in October 2013, and was followed by an ambitious world tour. A documentary film of the tour, The Reflektor Tapes, was released in 2015, as was an accompanying EP of the same name. May 2017 saw Arcade Fire perform an intimate secret show in Montreal, where they played six new songs. At the end of the month they released “Everything Now,” the lead single from the highly anticipated fifth studio album of the same name, which dropped later that July. Featuring production by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, Pulp’s Steve Mackey, Portishead’s Geoff Barrow, and longtime producer Markus Dravs, Everything Now also featured the singles “Creature Comfort” and “Electric Blue.” ~ Andrew Leahey