I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of often bombastic alt-rock darlings, Arcade Fire. However, I’m intrigued by the Montreal-based group's latest release, "The Suburbs", a concept album centered around the theme of, you guessed it, suburban sprawl, a topic that I recently covered in posts about the American Makeover web series and the launch of the Sustainable Cities Institute.
The San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) recently published an excellent blog post by Colleen McHugh that dissects "The Suburbs" and explores themes of suburbia and urban planning in music and pop culture — David Byrne is namechecked, natch. McHugh writes: “At times nostalgic and at times cautionary, 'The Suburbs' may be most notable (certainly in the realm of SPUR’s blog) as an example of city planning commentary in pop culture.”
McHugh goes on to say:
Arcade Fire’s "The Suburbs" isn’t as much about suburbanism versus urbanism, or cars versus bicycles, as it is a question of 'What now?' The album’s vision of suburbia may not exactly be an ideal place to live — not in the 1980s and certainly not upon returning to it today. But the narrator of the album does return, nostalgic for his wasted hours of youth and fearful of what may remain for his children. If suburbia is no longer necessarily the dream, what is to be made of those communities we built in the '70s?
I’ve yet to give the full album a listen, but after McHugh’s analysis and an intriguing review
on NPR, I think I’ll put my obsession with Swedish electro songstress Robyn on hold and dedicate some iPod time to "The Suburbs" over Labor Day weekend.
One thing that I have had the chance to check out is The Wildness Downtown
, Chris Milk's interactive viral video for “We Used to Wait,” a track off of "The Suburbs". I don't want to give too much away but the HTML5-coded video weaves in Google maps and satellite images for a haunting, deeply personal viewing experience.
To view it, head on over to The Wilderness Downtown
and type in your childhood address (or your hometown). Next, sit back and brace yourself for some misty-eyed nostalgia — just make sure that your other browser tabs/windows are closed and that you use the Google Chrome
browser for an optimum, crash-free viewing experience. Some locations may work better than others, so if your childhood address doesn't pull up the desired results, try plugging in another address that holds emotional significance to you: Grandma's house, your first post-college apartment, your high school, the local Dairy Queen. I had fun with it and typed in Lancaster, Calif., a city in Southern California's infamously sprawl-y Antelope Valley (screenshots are below). Give it a shot and let me know what you think.
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