As many lamented the dwindling hours of Barack Obama’s presidency, those were the simple words Arcade Fire had for their surprise single release. The release wasn’t expected, nor was it exactly sought after — the band’s been mum long enough for the public psyche to, at least for the time being, forget about Arcade Fire in the face of more recently vocal, politically active musicians. Yet, their poignantly timed new single, “I Give You Power,” is the perfect answer to today’s divisive, often fragmented political climate: Solidarity is a beautiful thing, but when it engenders itself in the face of fear? That’s when it’s most powerful.
Arcade Fire aren’t strangers to the familial, either. From their letters to the suburbs to their debut album’s fixation on “neighborhood,” the band is among the notable contemporary harbingers of communal artistry — but perhaps now even more pointedly so. Post-election, many American artists have been channeling their thoughts and emotions (along with their fans’) in a variety of ways — some muted and some raucous, but all anchored in the same sentiment.
For “I Give You Power,” Arcade Fire recruit rhythm and blues mainstay Mavis Staples to orchestrate an aurally simple (yet contextually grand) piece that takes on a slightly different frame than many of their politically active colleagues. In mantric fashion, Staples and Win Butler — frontman for the band — craft a carefully-built fervor, with the two belting lyrics like “I give you power / But now I say / I give you power / I can take it away” over and over again, channeling the extremes of their past sounds in records like Reflektor and Neon Bible. Unlike their musical contemporaries, Butler and Staples stick to the basics. They exchange fury for groove, aggression for simplicity, a call to arms for a simple warning — as easily as we give our leaders power, we can take it away. It’s a sobering reminder in the face of the anger these next four years risk generating. We’re all in this together — Arcade Fire ensures we won’t forget that.