Lesser bands have crumbled under the weight of critical acclaim and the subsequent expectations that have been heaped upon Montreal's Arcade Fire since issuing Funeral, its 2004 debut. Heralded as indie-rock saviors, compared to Byrne, Bowie and Botticelli, and thrown into the Colosseum for a to-the-death battle with Broken Social Scene, the scintillating septet has emerged miraculously unscathed from the hypestorm to produce a sophomore release of widescreen ambition, aching humanity and surprising simplicity. On Neon Bible, the group retains its familiar twitchiness, darkness and grandeur, but also strips itself down (at least in spirit) to folksy pop that owes as much to Springsteen as to Scritti Politti. What emerges recalls the dramatic, emotive work of fellow Canucks the Dears -- a dense and melancholic storm cloud that creeps into the afternoon, blotting out the overbearing sun and creating a canvas on which scary flashes of lightning arc like bridges to the evening, painting convulsive masterpieces across the darkened sky.
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