Focusing on the singles off the trinity of long-awaited returns from Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem and Fleet Foxes, there is no doubt that these indie giants of the 2000’s became such through their sheer capacity of emotion both lyrically and musically. Their success in this era has given them a license to freedom, in that they no longer feel to need to show-off for commercial success, instead they have established producers, labels and fans. For the fans, the debuts and sophomore albums marked a point in their own youth; a signifier of teenage years and early adulthood where emotion runs high and boldness is celebrated. Fast-forward a decade and the situation is unsurprisingly not quite the same. Gone are the days of daring school behavior in the search for momentary fame, everything’s a bit more subdued – now comes the yearning for stability and sophistication; a notion adhered to in the more introspective and reserved nature of these ‘indie giants’’ new releases.
Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold is certainly aware of the growing sentiment that his own, definitively ‘indie’ music, is ‘outwardly obedient to an expired paradigm’. His response to this in an instagram post makes an attempt to validate all music through its ability to define feeling. It seems here that Pecknold is attempting to validate his youthful musical pursuits in much-changed modern day scenario. His attempts to justify such an anachronism bring in questions of identity, more specifically trying to identify a constant self in the rift between the present and his more youthful years. This is a struggle that most young adults can relate to and these puzzling implications of essentially ‘growing up’ take center stage in Fleet Foxes’ new album ‘Crack-Up’. Compared with the fulfilling natural freedom that Pecknold narrates in ‘Grown Ocean’ six years prior, the lead single ‘Third of May/Odaigahara’ demonstrates a stark contrast in terms of self-interpretation. Pecknold’s rather defeatist lines “the sight of sea, you’re probably free/ but it’s all the same” relate to the isolated solipsism felt by their aging audience. The entrapment of this ‘wherever you go, there you are’ attitude makes a change from the light subject matter of their first EP. Lyrics like “back in our home town as a castaway” help push the focus of belonging and isolation further in their newest lead single – a feeling surely relatable to their early, faithful listeners. Even secondary singles from the new album, for example – ‘Fool’s Errand’, become self-conflicting to an almost paralyzing extent. Particularly the line “I know my eyes, they’ve often lied” – a direct contrast to the absolute, youthful assurance that comes with the observations in ‘Textbook Love’ eleven years beforehand. The music itself on the new album shows little progression from the products of their mid/late 2000’s heyday. Full of delicate harmonies and lush acoustic backing, the album sounds rather similar to previous efforts. However, in doing so, this creates a duality that perfectly represents the young adult; a constancy of character shown in the music’s reactionary folk elements, yet bubbling with anxieties about one’s self, evident in Pecknold’s indulgent lyrical progression.
The single ‘Creature Comfort’ from Arcade Fire’s new release ‘Everything Now’ also finds itself within this duality, though in this case the lyrical content remains relatively static whilst the musical aspect is undoubtedly progressive. Its disco feel, stemming from synth and bass heavy instrumentation seem a world away from the tender and humble roots of their first two albums. However, the subject matter of love, death and childhood’s ugly conclusion is an exact replica of their earliest work. This is even referenced explicitly in the narcissistic fable of a suicidal fan that “told me she came so close / Filled up the bathtub and put on our first record”. Here Win Bulter, much like Pecknold, matches progression with stasis – a crippling dichotomy that relates to anxieties of the aging youth. Though ‘Creature Comfort’ certainly deals with the same issues that the first album (‘Funeral’) bases itself on, the debut has a different attitude towards these issues. The varied ways in which Butler and the band address such topics become symbolic of the times. ‘Funeral’s most popular single ‘Wake Up’ deals with these dreaded emotions with fearless declarations, represented both musically and lyrically. It builds into a wondrous symphony raining down upon listeners with conviction contained within lines such as “I can see where I am go-going / You better look out below!”. To contrast, ‘Creature Comfort’ finishes much as it is in its entirety with a forgettable conclusion “make it painless” droning out. Unlike ‘Wake Up’, there is no ‘I’ in sight, implying a feeling of helplessness. Arcade Fire’s other popular efforts on ‘Everything Now’ do however offer some ‘Funeral’-esque anthemic declarations, however they rejoice in utter confusion. The chorus in ‘Signs of Life’ is great fun, yet the meaning is that of inability, helplessness and fruitlessness. How can this be celebrated? Why is this celebrated? The title track only adds to this confusion with a celebration of what Win Butler pens as ‘Everythingnowness’ – that is, the modern problem of immediacy and impatience. The ridiculously upbeat and cheerful instrumentation of the chorus (and by extension, the entire song) either celebrates awfulness or celebrates in spite of it. In opposition to ‘Funeral’, Arcade Fire seem to concede to certain aspects of life rather than face them as they once did. This change in attitude mirrors that of ever-questioning teenage troubles, now put aside by means of growth and maturity.
Despite being seven years apart, LCD Soundsystem’s latest album ‘American Dream’ differs little, musically, from their previous LP ‘This Is Happening’. The group’s mastermind James Murphy finds himself, once again, plying neat, quirky observations over typically repetitive beats on ‘Tonite’. However, he seems to do so in even more reservation and distance than usual – an odd feature as the song certainly resembles some of the bands earlier work. The track revolves around a similar subject that their celebrated single ‘All My Friends’ dealt with a decade ago – the importance of ‘tonight’. On ‘Tonite’, Murphy seems to criticize the general obsession over such a notion, painting those that embrace it as shallow and heedless to a wider picture. Though this revelation is supposed to be comforting, it is essentially attacking an underpinning premise of youth. The transition from songs such as ‘Daft Punk Is Playing At My House’ and ‘All My Friends’ to ‘Tonite’ is ruthless. The first two revolve around parties at my/your house (making them personable) happening that very night – tracks filled with youth and excitement. Fast-forward a decade, and the same singer James Murphy doesn’t refer to any house, any parties, any friends – merely the supposed ‘improvements’ that come from getting older. It is not the soundtrack of leaving home and finding your place in the world that Fleet Foxes and Arcade Fire have recently focused on, but rather Murphy dragging the listener into the reality of adulthood.
‘All My Friends’ should carry the same message. It carries similar observations of growing up and the sad prophecies that come with it (“You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan / And the next five years trying to be with your friends again”) yet it refuses to carry any weight or dread. The tempo of 143bpm is absolutely unrelenting. It gives time a brutality and should force a sense of helplessness upon myself, yet it doesn’t. The longing outro “If I could see all my friends tonight” should evoke a yearning for times once gone; yet it doesn’t. It is only the James Murphy of 2017, and his weak and wearied outro on ‘Tonite’ that makes me this way. The loss of enthusiasm and optimism is indicative of the mindsets of those embracing adulthood – a sad reality that even great music personalities evidently struggle to escape from.
These selected 2000’s transatlantic indie giants become a definitive older brother figure in the lives of their fans. Born from a connection established in childhood, this relationship between you and the music ages together – a brand new single turns into an escapist snippet of tuneful nostalgia. But like an older sibling, these bands accomplish and produce something that you simply cannot. Filled with awe and admiration, growing up beside them is filled with wisdom and insights that you dare not question. Yet, when they begin to question themselves, like Pecknold and Murphy do, where does that leave you – the listener? Filled with doubt and scared of trust, we grow up into adulthood where everyone else feels just as we do. Perhaps this is the only thing we can hold onto – the mutuality of humanity’s universal anxieties. We can sink further into the pits of crippling criticism that Fleet Foxes and LCD Soundsystem flirt with retrospectively, or celebrate our problems as Arcade Fire press us to do. Either way we must acknowledge our own temporality to embrace change, a notion to which all these artists do concur.