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The Suburban Experience of Music: A Look at Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs

June 28, 2010

Nothing screams suburbia like…Arcade Fire? The Montreal-based band has been gaining popularity in recent years, especially due to the involvement in films such as Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are. As indie bands grow in fame, their market naturally changes. However, recently I’ve noticed that the indie music genre as a whole has been facing a new commercialization. Some examples of this include bands being played in commercials, such as Grizzly Bear for Volkswagen or She & Him for iPhone. Each of the Twilight Saga films have released a soundtrack with predominantly indie artists, such as St. Vincent, Victoria Legrand of Beach House, and Bon Iver. The first thing associated with the suburbs is not necessarily indie music. We think of chain restaurants, track homes, uniformity, and music played on Star 98.7. However, I think this is something that must be recognized and accepted. Accept the things I cannot change and have the wisdom to know the difference, right? Why must we feel the need to own a smaller band? Music should be personal, yes; but it should also be shared as an art form.

Arcade Fire’s new album—which is out in the U.S. August 3rd—is titled The Suburbs. I would argue that Arcade Fire is not necessarily marketing to a suburban audience, but rather trying to capture the existential dilemma that suburbanites face. Great art can come from suburbia, and in turn, can also be inspired by it. The band’s website states, “Arcade Fire presents The Suburbs.” This new album is a conceptualization of an experience. Suburbia as a concept is both bizarre and unique.

While making everything uniform, it is natural for many to have the desire to rebel. In one of four leaked songs, Arcade Fire captures the essence of many suburbanites with the song titled “The Suburbs.” Win Butler sings, “You always seemed so sure / That one day we’d be fighting / In a suburban war.” Lyrics like this make me wonder why there is this “us vs. them” mentality. In the suburban sense, this could be related to class: What car do you drive? What high school did you go to? What neighborhood is your house located in? In terms of music–especially in relation to the commercialization of smaller artists—why must we feel as though our taste is more private or sacred than someone who listens to public radio? Also, is great art only successful art? And why shouldn’t these smaller bands we know and love be granted this commercial success?

Butler sings, “I saw you standing on the opposite shore / But by the time the first bombs fell / We were already bored.” He then repeatedly says, “I’m moving past the feeling.” The song speaks to the apathetic youth that suburbia breeds. Butler provides an image of a person being bored in the midst of warfare. Rather than taking action or having an opinion, the persona stands there idly. Many have become apathetic in terms of war, politics, and even music. People listen to what is on the radio, rather than what bands may be playing at smaller venues. In short, people listen to what they are told to listen to. However, if what they are told to listen to is Phoenix or Vampire Weekend, is it really so terrible? These literate bands will be on repeat for years to come—along with the rest of the 90s bands consistently playing on Star.

In “Month of May,” Butler most poignantly sings, “Now the kids are all standing with their arms folded tight.” Part of the suburban experience is to be closed off to experience. This could or could not necessarily be a conscious choice made by many. We need to break out of this stagnant bubble and experience a little of what the world has to offer. One may do this through travel, film, reading, or music. A person can experience a mindset or an event without ever being there through the act of listening to music. Through their new album, Arcade Fire sheds some light on the experience that is particular to suburbia. Others can feel what it is like to live in a place such as this by listening to The Suburbs. On the other hand, a suburban kid can feel as though they are not a clone and that what they have lived through is a legitimate—although strange—experience. The Suburbs will both enlighten people and possibly inspire others to leave suburbia. We need to share this music.


Psst: Got thoughts? Share ’em in the comments section here.

p.s. We’re hosting listening parties for “The Suburbs” in our garages. We’d love it if you would join us.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 26, 2010 10:14 am

    beach houses are nice because you can swim anytime you want and the beach is a great view too;,-

  2. November 12, 2010 1:30 pm

    beach houses are really nice and it would always be a warm and relaxing place *’:

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