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Arcade Fire
(Merge Records)

I first heard of the Arcade Fire on a self-released disc that they released themselves through their website. I found a few small articles about them that claimed they put on one hell of a live show and that their somewhat questionably produced EP was just the tip of the iceberg. Even on those rough tracks, a sort of reckless energy shone through in places that was completely infectious and had me looking forward to the next effort from the group. Funeral is their full-length debut and it's already been lauded by many as one of the best discs of the year. Like another notible Canadian band that broke last year after a stunning follow-up release (Broken Social Scene), it mixes styles effortlessly and keeps you guessing and interested nearly throughout.

If I were to have just heard the first half of the disc, I probably would have proclaimed it the best of the year as well. Opening with "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)," the group takes off with dense sheets of guitars, piano, and rumbling drums that all propel a gorgeous track that literally bursts at the seams by the end. "Neighborhood #2 (Laika)" mixes shouted vocal harmonies with strings, accordion, and more sharp guitars for great dynamic effect while "Une Anne Sans Lumiere" takes things down a bit for a nice breather.

Just about the time you think the group is going to get all calm though, they unleash what is easily one of the best tracks I've heard this entire year with "Neighborhood #3 (Power Out)." Although technically the track has a fairly simple structure (repetitive percussion with alternately quiet and loud sections and vocals), it builds with an infectious glee that makes you want to run out into the street at midnight and scream at the top of your lungs along with it while alternately smashing things and celebrating life.

After such a glorious beginning, the album again takes a bit of a breather for a couple tracks before coming back with the sing-along "Wake Up." Opening with an epic wash of noise and an almost choir backing, it drops off into a more guitar-based close while "Haiti" relies on a simple keyboard melody to make things float. The closer of "In The Backseat" falls a little too close to the weepy side of things, but like the rest of the small dips on the album, it doesn't diminish the overall quality of the release by much. In a year full of great albums, this is another entry that will arrive somewhere near the top.

Rating: 8.25