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Arcade Fire Grabs the Grammy, Wins Album of the Year

Arcade Fire at the Grammy press area
Arcade Fire at the Grammy press area
Associated Press

Do awards legitimize music? Can any art truly be given the “blue ribbon” for being the “best”? The answer is, “No.” However, in an attempt to recognize talent, we humans are prone to giving awards. It’s usually more to recognize that, hey, we as the masses, finally understand and appreciate your music. Here is a trophy.

In the US, we call this exercise in delusion, “The Grammy’s”.

Often, The Grammy’s can be dismissed as a joke. The institution lost so much credibility in 1989 when it overlooked the powerhouse of Metallica and chose to honor Jethro Tull and a completely off the radar album that many music fans still snicker at the idea that this institution has it’s finger on the pulse of contemporary music.

However, they have gotten it right a few times.

Witness the 2011 winner for Album of the Year: The Arcade Fire.

“The Suburbs” marks the bands third studio album. A group known for thoughtful songs that wrap themselves around various themes, this album finds the band throwing off the growing pains of youth and falling into a more relaxed maturity. Mid-tempo and clean, these tunes carry Win Butler’s exposed and disarming vocals along a string of ambitious arrangements. Song numbers can be stripped down, with just a few elements while others take on a more orchestrated and grandiose feel with a wide variety of strings and percussive elements layered in. The Arcade Fire is adept at taking the traditional aspect of songwriting and tweaking it with such an indie flair that the end result takes on the personality of something refreshingly new and easily familiar at the same time.

The album was released on Merge Records and the final product was available with eight different covers (sometimes artists can be over-ambitious). While the band has made previous Grammy waves with two previous nominations, it was “The Suburbs” that earned the band the unexpected win.

It’s the Arcade Fire’s unique sound that has earned the attention and acclaim. In a recent 2011 interview with The Guardian, Butler revealed the moment the group stumbled upon the sonic gold that would come to define The Arcade Fire’s sound. It was during the writing of ‘Neighborhood #2 (Laika)’ off of their debut album “Funeral”.

“It was the first time I could hit play and say, 'Yeah, that's roughly what I've been talking about.' It sounded like what it was supposed to sound like."

The band’s originality isn’t lost on fellow band member and multi-instrumentalist Richard Reed Parry. He was recently quoted as viewing his bands position in the music world as, “…the grain of pepper in the salt shaker.”

The earliest incarnations of The Arcade Fire formed in Montreal, Canada around 2001. Butler and his future wife Regine Chassagne began performing with friends in lofts and art galleries. Following the first recording sessions for their self-titled EP and one particular on-stage meltdown, the original line-up of The Arcade Fire was fractured with multiple members deciding to leave for various reasons. Luckily for the millions who have since become rabid fans of this peculiar indie gem, the band solidified with some additional members (including Win’s brother William Butler) and continued forward to promote and play their initial self-release.

Based on the power of these early shows, the band found its home on Merge Records before the end of their first year together.

The band’s Grammy win isn’t the first time they have been acknowledged for their groundbreaking talents. The 2004 debut “Funeral” and their 2006 follow-up “Neon Bible” both received Grammy nominations. In 2008, the band won both the Meteor Music Awards for Best International Album and the Juno Awards for Alternative Album of the year for their “Neon Bible” release.

As for the band name, Butler has often explained, “It's based on a story that someone told me. It's not an actual event, but one that I took to be real. I would say that it's probably something that the kid made up, but at the time, I believed him.”