Through A Note Darkly: Stuck in the Suburbs with Arcade Fire's The Suburbs

Through A Note Darkly is a weekly feature on in which contributor Chris Villalta searches for lessons in an album he's heard a lot about, but has never heard in full before

As I began getting over my first break-up I remember dread crawling its way up from my toes, wrapping its crooked fingers around my mind. I couldn’t tell what fueled this dread’s trek, what caused me to lose interest in the songs off of Funeral that I discovered and felt vibrate through my earphones during my time with “the one.” My longing to build a tunnel from my window to hers wilted, and like any young romantic I desperately tried to glue the petals back onto the stem, desperately tried to hang onto to the concept of “the one,” but I was growing up. I knew this when I found myself falling in love with the first Arcade Fire song I heard, a song which had initially turned me off to the group for a few months until my stumble upon Funeral, “The Suburbs.” The gradual decay from “biking under the sun” to “crying under the moon” instrumentation, the lyric “Sometimes I can’t believe it/I’m moving past this feeling”–it all made sense.  

The dread was a result of me shedding my skin, moving on from someone who believed in “the one” and moving on to figure why I felt I needed a “one.” It’s a loss of naivety, getting over “the one.” And not just in relationships, but in everything. No longer could I see the value in putting hours into Guitar Hero or buying exclusively from Hot Topic to maintain some sort of self-granted brand. There was now a future to think about, slightly more real problems to deal with entering my junior year in a more prestigious school with the baggage of an eating disorder and college applications around the corner. I was over her, over Guitar Hero, over all of it and it was incredibly depressing to be over all those things. I couldn’t believe I was moving past such strong feelings, but I was happy I didn’t have to feel the dread alone. “The Suburbs” and “Suburban War” scored those final years of high school, but listening to the whole album now with some college under my belt and real life a semester away from hitting me in the face I understand why Win Butler adds “again” to the “I can’t believe it” line a few times.

Stuck in the same hole

You always think you’ve grown out of something until you repeat some mistakes or find yourself randomly tearing up over events you thought were destined never to be wept over again. You get over whatever it is, for me that it being the concept of “the one,” and think that now you are “Ready to Start,” ready to make that “record in the month of May,” ready to sing even though they told you to stop (“The Sprawl”), but like The Suburbs, you find yourself constantly stumbling over memories, reflecting on things you thought you’ve done all the reflecting you could on. Arcade Fire briefly go on their tirade against the music industry in “Ready To Start,” poke fun at hipsters in “Rococo,” but then dip back into “searching, in an empty room,” and feeling those teen feelings of being the most yourself when your most alone, of not knowing if you’ll ever be graced with that feeling smiley people describe as “calm.” It seems when you think you're ready to start, you just fall back to the feeling felt before you were ready. There is no escaping the suburbs: people, places, things which define childhood. Leave it to Arcade Fire, however, to make an album as inescapable as the suburbs they comment on so masterfully. From folk to indie rock to electro to music fitting for an opening to old cinema (“The Suburbs (cont.)”), I can’t help but keep revisiting The Suburbs like I keep revisiting memories of a me whose biggest concern was his grade on the geometry final.