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Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge) 

If you can find it in your heart not to begrudge the spinning of mythology out of suburban sprawl, then you're cleared to fall for The Suburbs—and the Arcade Fire aren't joking about their 16-song, hour-long mini-opus about the connection between planned communities and youthful ennui.

The signature anthem here is "We Used to Wait," on which Win Butler is a Luddite philosopher singing nostalgically for simpler times when "I used to write letters, I used to sign my name." It's a five-minute disavowal of technology and progress; "I hope that something pure can last," he prays.

For all its self-seriousness, The Suburbs overall has a remarkably light touch. The band comes off as hopeful pessimists with a soft spot for mythopoetical moments of transcendence. This is a nice upswing from 2007's damned bleak (in a fey sort of way) Neon Bible. That album wouldn't have had time for an ABBA-inspired ballad like The Suburbs' "Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)."

The critique that Butler and company levy at suburbia may feel obvious in places. "All the kids have always known / that the emperor wears no clothes," he sings on "Ready to Start." Of course the children of suburbia are world-weary despite not being of any authentic world. But that song is also a courageous declaration about the plans we make in youth to escape the places that hem us in. In capturing that soaring sense of possibility mixed with disappointment, The Suburbs is a bit brilliant.

More by Sean Bottai

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