Will Butler’s fame goes beyond his membership of the indie rock band Arcade Fire. A talented American musician and composer, he brings his new album Generations in full force during what is perhaps the best time to highlight the purpose behind his project. Five years after the release of his last album Policy, Butler returns with a lyrical collection that amplifies feelings, ponders questions, and pursues answers through lively and contagious songs.
In comparison to Policy, Butler describes Generations as “more of a novel – despairing, funny, and a little bit epic.” He says that the creation of the album largely stemmed from a reflection prompted by two questions he asked himself: “What’s my place in American History and what’s my place in America’s present?” Building on those, he skillfully utilizes the melody and lyrics of his songs to touch on systematic realities like white privilege, racism, police brutality, and prison reform.
In the video of his single “Surrender,” released in mid-July, Butler juxtaposes images of nature and behind-the-scenes videos of quarantine recordings with captions of the distressing events that have been happening in 2020. In them, he describes what he was feeling during quarantine and his thoughts on police brutality and the current incarceration system. He even mentions the police killings of victims George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, and Rayshard Brooks (among others). A song like “Hard Times” further shines a light on the chaotic events this year has brought.
The progression of the album is also an interesting detail to note. It begins with “Outta Here,” a song rooted in the current chaotic present, and ends with “Fine,” a somewhat controversial commentary of George Washington, the American Revolution, and the construction of American history. The idea of going back in time is certainly creative, but the awkward melody matching awkward lyrics like “I’m not gonna die in Times Square…from a dirty bomb…or shot down on the lawn,” revealing his privileged background almost gaily, takes away from the meaningful political stance shown in other works.
However, the album manages to maintain a positive and unassuming tone. Despite the exploration of heavy subjects like the ones described above, the music is infectious, fiery, and in some cases even upbeat. “Surrender” is the perfect depiction of this combination, fusing choral vocals in the background with cheery piano riffs. In fact, if one doesn’t watch the video, it’d be easy to think that the only cloudy characteristic of the song is its title. There are songs in this album that could very well start your day…if you’re that kind of person.
Generations is an interesting take on the questions Will Butler asked himself in-the-making. At times bleak and satiric but never heavy, this album embodies the celebrated traits of indie rock with a twist. Butler shows us that no matter how daunting things may seem, there are ways to find harmony in chaos and a beaming light at the end of the tunnel.