Monday, March 31, 2014

The Neighborhood: How Arcade Fire Perfectly Replicated Plato's The Cave

"They heard me singing and they told me to stop/Quit these pretentious things and just punch the clock."

Regine Chassagne blares out on Sprawl II, the climax of Arcade Fire's third studio album The Suburbs. The line symbolizes much of what Arcade Fire is about; creating a voice for the voiceless. Most music now-a-days deals with the surreal, providing a fantasy world for the listener to escape to from the dull world they live in. Arcade Fire has made their living in denouncing the world of conformity by explicitly crushing its existence, while attempting to highlight the freedom of creativity they currently relish in. Their message has been clear from the get-go. Ever since the first guitar rattles on Neighborhood #1 the pressures faced by societies standards are met with reckless abandon, setting sail for the land of the free where one is allowed to express their feelings in a nonjudgmental way.

Throughout all of this, and the many other themes in the Montreal-based band's career, lies a Greek tragedy at the heart. Specifically, philosopher Plato's Allegory of the Cave. For Arcade Fire's four-album spanning discography travelogues, in definitive detail, Plato's short story to a T. While not obvious, or even existent in every song, the arching story is ever present. It's a remarkable feat. Not in that they've created it, although that is partly behind its success, but that the general public and diehard fans alike have not noticed it. In the following article, I'll discuss, in chronological order of both, the extent to which Arcade Fire has replicated the tried and true story of the fate of enlightenment.

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Act I

The Cave
"People live under the earth in a cavelike dwelling. Stretching a long way up toward the daylight is its entrance, toward which the entire cave is gathered. The people have been in this dwelling since childhood, shackled by the legs and neck. Thus they stay in the same place so that there is only one thing for them to look that: whatever they encounter in front of their faces. But because they are shackled, they are unable to turn their heads around."
 The Fire
"Some light, of course, is allowed them, namely from a fire that casts its glow toward them from behind them, being above and at some distance. Between the fire and those who are shackled there runs a walkway at a certain height. Imagine that a low wall has been built the length of the walkway, like the low curtain that puppeteers put up, over which they show their puppets."
The Shadows
"So now imagine that all along this low wall people are carrying all sorts of things that reach up higher than the wall: statues and other carvings made of stone or wood and many other artifacts that people have made. As you would expect, some are talking to each other and some are silent."
As illustrated below, the cave works as such. The law of the cave, and specifically that of the prisoners, is the law of the land. They have experienced nothing else in life besides the various shadows that are projected on the walls. Therefore, without being aware of it, they are entirely ignorant of earth and everything and everyone that inhabit it. What they believe to be true is merely a fabrication of life itself. Shadows, as they are in our universe, are cast based upon the real world composition it makes up. What the prisoners witness is merely the fake sense of reality caused by light (enlightenment in this sense). The prisoners think and feel as humans, so it would stand to reason that whatever they see they'd assign meanings to, maybe even personalities. The sounds that the walkers make on the roadway would simply be interpreted as sounds casted by the shadows, another sense of false reality.

Une Année San Lumière

The first instance of our tragedy begins on the third track, titled in English, 'A Year Without Light.' The opening four lines, the final three being in french, spell out our naive beginnings. The translation in English is as follows:
"Hey! The streetlights all burnt out. A year without light. I mount a horse wearing blinders."
This sets the stage for the prisoners of the cave, in this instance, and every instance from here on out, being Arcade Fire in their quest for enlightenment. In the opening remarks Win states that the lights are burnt out, meant to resemble the darkness experienced by the prisoners in the cave, followed by the year without light, showing the length of time endured by the captives. The next line, perhaps the most important is purely symbolic. The horse wearing blinders is an instant imagery for the lack of sight to behaviors of the outside world. Horses are only able to see what is within view. For the prisoners that means shadows in their world of ignorance. The final bridge recounts as follows:
"Hey, your old man should know. If you see a shadow, there's something there."
Besides the obvious inclusion of shadow as a metaphor for sight, this line alludes to the previous couplet earlier in the song about a father whose beliefs doesn't extend beyond what he believes to be true, aka having blinders on. Everyone knows that if you see a shadow, someone or something must be there to account for its existence, much like in the cave, except at this point the prisoners aren't aware of that yet.  

Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)

Following 'Year Without Light' comes the third installment in the neighborhood series. Power Out, while simultaneously acting as a call out to the revolting youth using strong messages and a powerful rock ballad, delivers strongly on the meaning of youthful ignorance and nativity. Many lines here deal with the hiding of information to children growing up to conservative parents who force their kids to become someone they're not. 
"I went out into the night. I went out to find some light."
Taken to literally in our metaphor the entire thing breaks apart, as only three songs in our ignorant captives seek to find the light that they know exists beyond. However the following stanza proves to reel the listener back in to their epic story. 
"I woke up on the darkest night, neighbors were all shouting that they found the light (We found the light!). Shadows jumping all over the walls, some of them big, some of them small."
 Turns out our naive little prisoners didn't find the light after all, despite beliefs that they did. Win claims in the first line that he went out in the darkest night, entirely contradicting the following line that the neighbors found the light where none exist. The next lines pull this home even stronger. Shadows, big and small, jumping along the walls elicit a direct reiteration of Plato's Allegory where the workers continue to create shadows on the walls, proving to us that these 'kids' in Power Out aren't really witnessing reality. Metaphorically speaking, a strong theme in Arcade Fire's music is that of fruitless enlightenment. Any ignorant soothsayer can preach all they want about seeing the light, but if they're still staring at the shadows jumping on the walls, true enlightenment hasn't quite reached them yet. 

Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles) | Wake Up | Rebellion (Lies)

The following three songs make further references to the light and one's seeking for it. On 7 Kettles, the discussion over loss of truth is ever present. Unsure feelings of fleeting time and when, or if, things ever happen happen. Shutting of eyelids and covering of truths are also on topic of discussion. But the real instance of revival comes off the aptly titled Wake Up when Win cries out "And I can see that it's a lie" which becomes the moment of clarity for someone struggling to come to grips with reality. This, followed by Rebellion, detail the moments where aggression, anguish, and struggle come together to form cohesive thoughts about the existence of the other. On Rebellion, the group speaks of "lifting those heavy eyelids," something earlier were being covered up. They also remark about the nature of those lying to us, or deceiving us to scare us 'straight,' so to speak. Here, it seems, that, as opposed to Power Out, Arcade Fire is now becoming aware of the world that has been hiding behind the blinders, calling the naysayers out for denying them their truth.

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Act II

The Escape
 "So now, I replied, watch the process whereby the prisoners are set free from their chains and, along with that, cured of their lack of insight, and likewise consider what kind of lack of insight must be if the following were to happen to those who were chained."
The Objects
"If all this were to happen to the prisoner, what do you think he would say if someone were to inform him that what he saw before were mere trifles but that now he was much nearer to beings; and that, as a consequence of now being turned toward what is more in being, he also saw more correctly?"
 "And if someone were to show him any of the things that were passing by and forced him to answer the question about what it was, don't you think that he would be a wit's end and in addition would consider that what he previously saw with is own eyes was more unhidden than what was now being shown."

The Fire 
"And if someone even forced him to look into the glare of the fire, would his eyes not hurt him, and would he not then turn away and flee back to that which he is capable of looking at? And would he not decide that what he could see before without any help was in fact clearer than what was now being shown to him?"
 As Socrates lays out above through the voice of Plato, the nauseating experience of one seeing true life is to surreal to even imagine. In much the same way as a foreign student from a third-world country sojourning to the United States, the feelings and thoughts of new life is one filled with shock, bewilderment, and outright dismissal. Any form of life shown at this point to the 'lucky' prisoner is subject to dismissal for their entire life up to that point has been something entirely different. What they surmise so far though is that what he's been told is his entire life (the wall of shadows) is actually a lie, and therefore his feelings of enlightenment and knowing are entirely stupefied. The fire, used literally in this case, blinds the prisoner who has been enshrouded in darkness their entire life. Metaphorically however, the light illuminating from the fire acts as a means of enlightenment. Many who come out of their state of ignorance must first endure the blinding feelings of "I was wrong my entire life" something many resist to face. Religion gets brought up here, for it is those that can admit to its shortcomings in the modern age and can learn to accept science for what it is and what it aims to do become enlightened to the true world around them, not being governed furthermore by something unproven (the shadows on the wall, religious deities). 

Black Mirror

The opening lines off Neon Bible deal directly with escapement. Where Funeral dealt with unintended ignorance of the youth and finding yourself in a damned world, Neon Bible deals with discovering the fallacies, understanding their realness, and not denying the inherit evil that inevitable lies within the world. So therefore, it stands to reason, that Neon Bible could be seen as Act II of Allegory, where the objects, the fire, and the people who all casted shadows upon the wall come to light and are then seen with the weary eye. Arcade Fire are now witnesses to the troubles of society, choosing to not directly shield their eyes in an attempt at covering the truth. Most importantly however, Neon Bible, and especially Black Mirror, whilst telling the stories of corruption and everyday problems faced by citizens in the internet age, recount the troubles initiated by those seeking truth over ignorance. As mentioned before, the learning step, figuring out the true nature of the world with no blinders on, is the toughest part because it means accepting the fact that what you've previously come to understand as truth is nothing but a lie.
"I will walk down to the ocean, after walking from a nightmare. No moon, no pale reflection. Black mirror, black mirror."
 The lines, while mostly figurative, deal with escaping the past that was the nightmare, coming to grips with its falsified reality, and venturing out without the accompaniment of a shadow (pale reflection). The term black mirror as well could be taken as meaning the shadow you cast, since it reflects you like a mirror and is black. 
"I know when the time is coming. All the words will lose their meaning. Please show me something that isn't mine, but mine is the only kind that I can relate to."
Further imagery of moving beyond the life that one had before. The prisoners time has come to witness the real world and all the words that he has been accustomed to knowing will lose all inherit value since it was all fake. He's now willing to move beyond what he's been forced to know, even though at this point in time all he can truly relate to in this world are the shadows, light, and fellow prisoners that he's known his entire life. 

Keep The Car Running

While not entirely related to the unfolding of the tragedy, 'Keep The Car Running' works in further conveying the message that the prisoner is still just a prisoner being forced to leave against his will.
"Men are coming to take me away. I don't know why but I know I can't stay."
As outlined in the Allegory, one day men decide to unchain the lonesome prisoner to force him on the journey of enlightenment. Carrying him along these unforeseen paths, the feeling in Win's voice is not something of anger or resentment, but of hope and understanding. Later on in the song Win speaks of a fear he's kept so deep since before he could speak. This could, although it may be somewhat of a stretch, be referring to the fear of becoming enlightened. One does not want to be proven wrong about everything they know in life and there was questions that ever since Win was 'chained up' so to speak he's been pondering of an existence elsewhere, potentially in his dreams. 

 Black Wave | Bad Vibrations

The most noticeable allusion to the Cave comes here on Regine's beautifully sung first half. Her echoing chants urge for the listener to drop what they're doing and run from the past into the unseeable future, dropping your name and history along in the process. Related to Plato's story this bears a striking resemblance. 
"We can reach the sea, they won't follow me. Shadows they fear the sun, we'll make it if we run."
Its now become obvious that the prisoner chooses to seek out further venture into the world and is now considering daring to venture out further into the sunlight. For it's out in the sun that the shadows cannot be. Ironically it delivers the coherence on the pattering even more since shadows don't fear the sun and actually shine brightest when it's out, proving once again the similarities between the story and Arcade Fire's tale. Regine then proceeds to holler "Run! From the memory" now becoming fully aware that what was once a strong memory of their past was nothing more than a travesty, a butchering of reality. Interestingly enough, halfway through the song Win firmly voices his option by urging Regine to "stop now before it's too late." And that "there's a great black wave in the middle of the sea." Win assumes the role of a trapped prisoner begging for Regine to not go forth into the light because he knows that something dark looms. That being the dreaded enlightenment, being aware of the world as a whole, which includes all the evil that encompasses it. The sea, as mentioned many times during Neon Bible, refers to the land of knowing, swimming out into the unknown to understand more and more.

Ocean Of Noise | The Well & The Lighthouse

While the meanings are not as noticeable on these two tracks, the driving message behind them relates to the Cave. The first line of 'Ocean of Noise' sets off the scene, combining the themes of the previous track (Black Waves/Bad Vibrations) & the following one (The Well & The Lighthouse). 
"In an ocean of noise, I first heard your voice. Ringing like a bell, as if I had a choice, oh well!"
Win, or the prisoner in this case, was forced to remove himself from the shackles of his life and delve into the depths of the true world. He was guided throughout the journey by an unknown man who he had to listen to whilst going through the stages. Choice plays a large role in everything at play here. The prisoners, from their birth, had no free will, in reality, and in their own perception of theirs. And now, despite the fact that the prisoner may feel as if options are opening up, they only become so after someone else makes the choice for him. Later on Win exclaims this same remark, believing now that free will, at least in the prisoners life, is not something that exists, despite any interaction that can occur. 'The Well & The Lighthouse' concludes the story set out in the previous two songs. Where the character unknowingly ventured out into the unknown on 'Black Waves', and chose to blindly, and unwillingly follow the leader on 'Ocean of Noise', they are now serving their time for the repercussions of said actions. Many believe that the path, and success, of enlightenment comes at a large price for you now become aware of the numerous tragedies surrounding our earth. There's a reason 'ignorance is bliss' is a famous saying. But Win lays claims that whatever has gotten him into this situation he'd "do it all again." Enlightenment is the true testament of discovering one's self, and despite the fact that you're likely to encounter the litany of troubles facing our society today, the feeling of knowing outweighs the nativity of not.

From here on out on Neon Bible, no direct connections are made. What is made however are numerous statements on the state of our society. From Religion and the hate it spreads, to the demands of a middle class job in our faceless world, to the lies, deviation from learning, and pointlessness of television and mass media, Neon Bible becomes littered with references to the bad in our world. Our lead prisoner is now witnessing the crimes the true world has created, manufactured, and upheld. This puts the album in a relatively, although sonically different, negative place as Funeral. Where the other dealt with death, unknowing and lost youth, Arcade Fire's second album deals with the problems endured by society itself through the problems it has created. Neither are remotely positive, going right in line with the Allegory.

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The Daylight
"Now if someone, using force, were to pull him who had been freed from his chains away from there and to drag him up the cave's rough and steep ascent and not to let go of him until he had dragged him out into the light of the sun...would not the one who had been dragged like this feel, in the process, pain and rage? And when he got into the sunlight, wouldn't his eyes be filled with the glare, and wouldn't he thus be unable to see any of the things that are now revealed to him as the unhidden?"
The Sun
"It would obviously take some getting accustomed, I think, if it should be a matter of taking into one's eyes that which is up there outside the cave, in the light of the sun. He would also be able to gather the following about the sun: That it is that which grants both the seasons and the years; It is that which governs whatever there is in the now visible region of sunlight; And that it is also the cause of all those things that the people dwelling in the cave have before they eyes in some way or other."
The Cave Re-imagined
"If he again recalled his first dwelling, and the "knowing" that passes as the norm there, don't you think he would consider himself lucky because of the transformation that had happened and, by contrast, feel sorry for them? Do you think the one who had gotten out of the cave would still envy those within the cave? Wouldn't he prefer to put up with absolutely anything else rather than associate with those opinions that hold in the cave and be that kind of human being?"
Upon first visitation to the outside world the prisoner would be blinded by the immense sunlight protruding from the sky. This is meant to represent the disbelief of truth those who come in contact with enlightenment feel upon first arrival. Especially considering their arrival at this foreign land by means of force, the time and belief it would take to convince someone that this world is the true one would be astronomical. Now, while spending some more time to view and take in the landscape, the prisoner would rightfully assume few things about the Sun and the reflection of light it gives off, namely that shadows are cast because of it, something that was physical and real to the prisoners in the cave. 

The most interesting aspect of all however, comes when one first considers their path to enlightenment. They have now seen, and begin to believe the new world, and thus remember their old world of shadows and walls. He'd feel immediate sorrow based upon the fact that what is real to them is nothing but a forgery of the real universe that exists behind them. It's stated in the Allegory that, in all likelihood, the prisoners have assigned names and competitions to who can predict shadows quick enough. The enlightened man could now not compete with them for he has seen the true way of life, and thus feels envious of their naive ways. Here lies the term "Ignorance is bliss." But regardless of his choice (or non-choice in this sense), the reveal of the true meaning greatly outweighs the blissful ignorance of not knowing what consumes the world now.

The Suburbs | City With No Children

The Suburbs begins where Neon Bible left off. While the former deals with the reveal of enlightenment, discovering the world's problems, the latter deals with looking back upon the days of yore in the suburbs, in this example representing the cave, where memories go to die. Win sings on the opener that "Sometimes I can't believe it, I'm moving past the feeling." The feeling being a recurring thing in The Suburbs, meant to reflect the changing of beliefs and times. The intro, and album as a whole, deals directly with the loss of youth, whilst still reflecting upon it. This is in stark contrast to Funeral, which dealt with youth in first person, while The Suburbs returns to see how things have changed, i.e. Enlightenment vs. Ignorance. Win's lines "Meant nothing at all, it meant nothing" showcase the ineptitude and pointlessness of the world in the cave, filled with assigned meanings to foreign objects. 

City With No Children, and much more songs on the first half, deal with returning to The Suburbs to see the destruction it has caused. Not so much in the literal sense, but in the sense that the protagonists have grown up and witnessed life, only to return to a changed childhood. One of the key lines in the song is as follows: 
"When you're hiding underground, the rain can't get you wet. But do you think your righteousness can pay the interest on your debt. I have my doubts about it."
An obvious reference to the cave. Hiding underground does mean you'll never get wet, but in doing so whilst outside allows you to see the world for what it truly is greater. Sure, escaping the cold, wet rain seems to be a better solution but you won't become more of a human in avoiding anything negative in an attempt to live in a world of disillusionment like those ignorant souls captured in the feelings that the world's a great place.

Half Light I | Half Light II

The first of two pairing songs on the record. Half Light I & II dissect in vivid detail the complications with society and their attempt at containing those uncontainable. On the first half Win describes society, and their parents', attempt at locking up the kids to begin to morph them into well-doers in our cookie-cutter society. The term 'Half Light' is meant to symbolize two things. One, the time in a child's life where they begin to make rational decisions on their own. It's a revitalizing period, the time of venturing out of the cave into the world of enlightenment. Unfortunately, and just as in the case of the cave, not everyone accomplishes this feat and many return to the obliviousness of their sheltering parents. The second meaning deals with the nighttime and the opportunity for kids, or anyone during life, to explore, expand, and discover things about themselves for society and the 9-5 job are out of session. 

Half Light II picks up years later upon return to their now-dismantled homeland. Many of the same topics are discussed, mainly the threat of enlightenment tearing open a person's emotional sanity. Win sees the destruction ignorance and conformity has caused upon his home town which has now morphed into the cookie-cutter suburbs, causing only him, the enlightenment man, pain and anguish whilst the others currently engulfed experience nothing. This song may mean to symbolize Win's attempt at looking back into the Cave and seeing his former glory and his fellow prisoners continue to wallow in their own ignorance. Fun fact: These two songs are the midway point of this album. 

Sprawl I | Sprawl II

The second half of the paired songs close out the album in grand, thematic style. Not just for their musical brilliance but also the conclusion it serves to our story of comparison. During Sprawl I, sung by Win, we see him and his friend return to their old stomping grounds in an attempt at recollecting nostalgic moments the duo has endured. Instead they're greeted with ruin and despair for the similarities of the suburbs subdues their efforts at even recognizing their own houses. Win's desperate crooning reaps this nostalgic factor through the negativie lens they now witness it. The strongest notion of changing times however takes us back to those childish days as Win and his friend get stopped by cops on their bikes. 
"Said do you kids know what time it is? Well sir, it's the first time I felt something was mine. Like I have something to give."
The police officers questioning shows us that they're riding around at night time, which as we know from the Half Light series, is the time when children become into their own and expand the reaches beyond what their parents will allow. As young Win exclaims back to the last defender of the sprawl, he feels freed, like he's finally a human whose opinion and voice matters to the world. He's reached the age of enlightenment in his own rebellious self searching for answers. Little did he know the anguish and suffering his questioning would cause to his future self. 

That future self answers him on Sprawl II, the anthemic conclusion rife with tremendously grave undertones thrown through an 80's glam rock record finishes off the album in glorious fashion. On Regine's earth-shattering track, ideologies about the sprawls that encompass the Suburbs are entirely understated by the message those that escape it must endure. But more than anything else it represents the shifting belief in the individuals who've faced enlightenment, accepted it, and now wish they've never experienced it to begin with. It's a haunting track taken through this context as it accurately displays continuity from the origins of Funeral, to the divergence of Neon Bible, to the acceptence and eventual denial in The Suburbs. Nearly every line on Sprawl II can be dissected for maximal effect but for sake of brevity I'll reduce it to a couple.
"Cause on the surface the city lights shine. They're calling at me "Come and find your kind."
The verse that precedes this deals with present-day Regine and her struggles at being accepted into modern day society. The only place she can go to find like-minded people is in the city for it has a far greater diversity of people than the suburbs. However, taken metaphorically, the surface and the lights shining represent the land outside the cave and the age of enlightenment, one that's filled with like-minded people who enjoy seeking out knowledge for pleasure. 
"I need the darkness someone please cut the lights."
Possibly the strongest line in all of Arcade Fire's discography that points to their parallel's of Plato's work. Leading up to this point everything, including their ignorance as children, to their forcing upon the outside world, to their eventual acceptance of said world. But, as outlined by Plato, one would begin to think of those still trapped in their ignorant minds lodged in the endless sprawls and feel extreme envy. During the chorus Regine blares out the dead shopping malls being an eyesore and a telling of times for our ever-changing consumerist society that has wrecked millions. She's legitimately worried for her own safety in escaping not only this land, but her self-realized negative perception of it. So, to conclude it, she admittedly states that she wants to return to the darkness of the cave, the ignorance of her former prison mates, and rescind the lights, the enlightenment she's shown, for good. Ignorance is bliss. 

Suburbs Continued

As if we needed any further indication of the closing moments of The Suburbs and where its left our troubled friends, the finale, a slow-churning hymn sung by Win in recollection of the opener, further drives home the point of the lost souls singing to us. Win sings: 
"If I could have it back. All the time that we wasted. I'd only waste it again. If I could have it back. You know I would love to waste it again. Waste it again and again and again."
Every line here overtly references their moments living in the cave of innocence, or in terms of their story, the childhood endured in the suburbs. Many, truthfully so, would interpret this as a nostalgic track seeking for a return to our childish ways and the joy they cherished. While that is true, bubbling underneath is the lustful urge to waste all that time again staring aimlessly at the walls, living in the state of ignorance. Win, rather disparagingly, wishes for that moment to return since he's officially had enough with his enlightened ways. And it also concludes our album on a somber note. A man sitting outside the cave, wishing he could return to the prisoners as if nothing had ever happened.  

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 Act IV

The Blindness
"And now, I responded, consider this: If this person who had gotten out of the cave were to go back down again and sit in the same place as before, would he not find in that case, coming suddenly out of the sunlight, that his eyes ere filled with darkness?"
The Prisoners
"Now if once again, the freed person had to engage in the business of asserting and maintaining opinions about the shadows -- while his eyes are still weak and before they have readjusted, would he not then be exposed to ridicule down there? And would they not let him know that he had gone up but only in order to come back down into the cave with his eyes ruined -- and thus it certainly does not pay to go up."
The Conclusion
 "And if they can get hold of this person who takes it in hand to free them from their chains and to lead them up, and if they could kill him, will they not actually kill him? GLAUCON : They certainly will."
The conclusion to the tale is pretty self-explanatory. Once one is exposed to the true world and all the positives and negatives it encompasses one cannot, speaking only figuratively, go back to the cave and their previous age of ignorance. Plato proposes that, with the knowledge of the outside world in hand, one would kill the man forcing him out of the cave before he can relish in the truth that lies on the outside. Upon returning to the cave physically one would be shrouded in darkness for some time, due to the immense light he became accustomed to on the outside, and would therefor not be able to see, or comment on, what the ignorant prisoners are witnessing. Thus, it stands, that once bearing witness to enlightenment one will never be a prisoner again.


While the story and comparison of Arcade Fire's discography and Plato's Allegory of the Cave technically concludes on The Suburbs rather morbid note, Reflektor, their fourth full-length LP, ties up certain loose ends, and acts, in relatively small ways, as a returning prisoner to the cave of ignorance and darkness. The album as a whole is segmented rather oddly, split into two distinct halves, both being reflections of themselves. With the album, Arcade Fire decided to delve into the concept of reflectivity on all forms of arts, media, and even history. As the saying goes, 'History repeats itself." If we choose to follow this path we see that the group has made comparisons to life back inside the cave, with the shadows the prisoners continue to watch being the reflections of the real-life.

In fact, the opening title track, contains vivid descriptions of life in the reflective age, where digitized screens control everyday life. Life itself has started to morph around these pieces of technology and many of them, texting, instant messaging, sifting through the web in the darkness of your bedroom, reflect off the true life that surrounds us as shadows of our physical human selves. Much of the album, at least the first half, deals with this sort of reflective technology, down to the album's core production, taken from James Murphy's highly-digital production style. Everything, down to the opener sample taken from the first song off their first album, reflects itself upon the record. While Funeral dealt with ignorance in the age of innocence Reflektor is forced to return once again to that land, this time being fully aware of the problems surrounding it. 

Here Comes The Night Time I & II

While, as mentioned before, Reflektor doesn't delve to much into the story since there wasn't much left to tell, the obvious choice to discuss is that of Here Comes The Night Time I & II. The chorus, with its cheerful, frenetic carnival-esque moments, yearns and rejoices in the coming night time. This is meant to symbolize the return to the cave, to the darkness once no stranger to our protagonist. However, as evidenced by the drastic change in tone later in the album on the second half of the song, the return is not all it was cracked up to be, and instead Win must suffer with his knowledge living in the age of ignorance. Prior to that moment however we're given the opening lines to the first track:
"When the sun goes down. When the sun goes down, you head inside. Cause the lights don't work, yeah nothing works, they say you don't mind."
It's clear, based off our comparison's, that Win aims to head back into the cave when the period of the enlightenment washes off. This could also be seen as the light in 'enlightenment' dying down, meaning the positivity of the entire knowledge-gaining process became mute. Either option, Win heads back into the cave, being told that he doesn't mind, which ironically enough is told to him by an un-enlightened cave-dweller. It's interesting to note to that this song deals aggressively with the notion that religious leaders are the most devious of us all, leading the ignorant followers astray. Every line here could be taken as being said from the mouths of those under God himself. In the following lines Win takes on the voice of a missionary who says that the only way to heaven is to follow the blind followers and get in-line, thus making it even more difficult to be accepted anywhere, even a place so accepting of all, if you've been exposed to enlightenment. 

Normal Person

Referring back to the opening track, the first instance of this forced re-connectivity is described vividly and with such clarity that it's clear Win is describing his moments back in the cave for the first time surrounded by those who conform; conformity being another large debate found throughout the album. Nearly every line here deals with the recurring motif that is conformity and the role it plays in the Plato's Cave. Those that are 'normal' immediately denounce those who deviate from said norm by alienating them as 'weird' or 'outcasts.'
"And they will break you down. Till everything is normal now."
 As hollered by Win on the chorus, those that society deems as 'others' should always be hounded, treated poorly, and looked down upon until they eventually succumb to the societal way of doing things. This belief goes in line with many things, including but not limited to, teenagers way of dealing with peer pressure, a creator's lost vision while having to deal with living an every day life, and a 'crazy' person defined only as such by those heading the normal society. In fact, many would consider those ignorant folks who blindly do as others do the crazy ones for suppressing their own primal behaviors, actions, beliefs, and motives only to be accepted amongst our modern society. The current cave-dwellers will continue to treat the enlightened man cruelly until he succumbs to believing the thoughts of those in the cave, something of which will never happen.

While the rest of Reflektor deals with subjects generally related to typical Arcade Fire fodder, that being conformity, individuality, love, separation, distancing from the real world, and many others, the general perception and parallel nature to Plato's The Cave dies down as the story comes to a conclusion, rightfully so. It's interesting to note however, on a final discussion, that, while Funeral dealt with the cave in its positive, innocent ignorance, Reflektor deals with the same cave after having returned to it, and as such it takes on a darker, more negative tone. Granted, Funeral is a horribly depressing album, the sounds dominating it are rather pleasant and uplifting. Here, on their fourth album, many of the sounds, excluding Here Comes The Night Time's joyful return to the cave, are dark, scary and looming until its conclusion signifying a death, right where Funeral left off. 

That is where I leave you. Whether or not you truly believe in this concept or not remains to be seen, but in accepting its existence, the world of Arcade Fire becomes that much more engrossing. Win Butler and Regine Chassagne may have you thinking about staying in the cave and killing those that attempt to drag you out, but life itself isn't worth living if all you're seeing are the shadows of what it creates. 

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  1. I love this. Please give me more even if i need to take a number.

  2. Haha thanks for enjoying it! If I ever find a need to write something about music similar to this you bet I will.

  3. Hey, do you this full time? I would love to get into something of this sort.