July 26, 2006

Magnetic Fields and Arcade Fire: "Born On A Train": Song Review(s)

win butler of the arcade fire :: photo by Christoffer Kittel

Review written by dylan mckeever

Magnetic Fields – "Born On A Train"

Even though the vehicular motif of this song is the locomotive, I always picture a shiny white Cadillac driving over some bright endless rainbow (kinda like that one level in Mario Kart 64 -anyone know what I’m talking about?) with Merritt at the helm wearing his trademark deadpan-melancholy voice on his own droopy face. I mean, can’t you see it? Those twinkling synth-lines and sunny production carrying a song about loss and detatchment? Clearly, this is a song about contrast and it does very well in balancing its opposites.

magnetic fields + born on a train [mp3]

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The Arcade Fire – "Born On A Train" (Live on KCRW 1/17/05)

On the other hand, The Arcade Fire manages to fully animate the song's central theme. Listen to how the accordion really stretches out each chord, how the rhythms of the violin and piano sync up, how the backbeat of the snare/tambourine combo helps to propel everything along. Listen, especially, to how Win's vocal delivery is both rusty and tired, yet resolute and unfaltering. It seems that this version of the song is more aware of its topic and more careful in painting its own portrait. Perhaps it's because the Arcade Fire were actually on tour during this recording, but I feel that that idea of weariness in always living on the road are really illuminated here.

the arcade fire + born on a train [mp3]

(Can anyone else think of more songs like the Magnetic Fields version, where the lyrics are in stark contrast with the music? Off the top of my head: Belle & Sebastian "Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying" and Radiohead "No Surprises")

dylan mckeever writes music and was raised by wolves.


  1. Anonymous11:51:00 PM

    "…where the lyrics are in stark contrast with the music?"

    I'd say the Smiths pretty much mastered that, at least half their songs are upbeat with downbeat lyrics or vice versa, the most extreme example probably being "There is a light that never goes out." There's plenty of country music that uses that trick, too.

  2. Anonymous1:02:00 AM

    One of my all-time favourite songs. Great writeup.

    As for those songs where the music is in stark contrast to the lyrics? What about the light-hearted oom-pah-pah of 'A Cautionary Song', by the Decemberists?

  3. Anonymous5:08:00 AM

    Of course! I can't believe I forgot The Smiths; kind of a no-brainer there. 'A Cautionary Song' is another great example.

  4. Anonymous5:54:00 PM

    My house has revived MarioKart 64... It's been a favorite this month.. in fact we're having a tournament this weekend! So yes, I do know what you're talking about.

  5. Anonymous12:58:00 PM

    "…where the lyrics are in stark contrast with the music?"

    I think one of the best examples is The Delgados' "All You Need Is Hate"

  6. "I mean, can’t you see it?"

    I can see it, but it doesn't make any sense. Help me out a little bit.