When I graduated from college, my friend’s mother gave me a pen, 10 monogrammed cards, and the advice that a handwritten message was the most important form of communication. At the time, I nodded in that way you do when you’re 21 and too overwhelmed by the future to comprehend any significance in the moment. Now, however, I’m inclined to agree with her even though I posses the penmanship of a sugar-bombed toddler.
I suspect Win Butler would also nod, but in a genuine way. He overstates the case – “Now it seems strange / How we used to wait for letters to arrive / But what’s stronger still / is how something small could keep you alive” – but less so than you might think. Think of the emails you could whip off in the time it takes to relay a charming anecdote or express sincere appreciation, then to track down an envelope, a stamp, a physical address. Love in $.44.
This isn’t a rant against technology or the pace of life or alienation in the time of Wikileaks. Electronic communication works wonders; I’d rather run than walk; transparency is vital. But Arcade Fire wrote the best album everyone heard in 2010 (sorry, Kanye) because they set out to achieve simple goal. “2009 / 2010 / I want to make a record for how I felt then,” Butler sings on “Month of May.” They succeeded in taking What It Means To Be Alive Today and transferring that onto a record that’s desperately urgent.
“We Used To Wait” is a vital track in the persuasive appeal of the 16-song whole. But when taken in a vacuum, it’s much closer to timeless. It’s a letter that reaches you eventually, not a time-stamped packet of zeros and ones that demands an immediate response. Take a second, uncross your arms, and write back.