You barely detect it at first, but something miraculous happens on Arcade Fire’s revelatory third album. The songs breathe — occasionally in long exhales, sometimes in staccato gasps. It’s a surprise given the Montreal septet’s previous predilections for tightly wound indie-rock that carries the weight of the world on its shoulders. The band’s 2004 debut, “Funeral,’’ focused on loss and grief, and “Neon Bible,’’ its epic follow-up three years later, suggested the apocalypse was upon us.
While those albums looked in the rear-view mirror, “The Suburbs’’ fixates on the future in a broad exploration of how where we’re from directs where we’re going. On the title track, a mother wants “a daughter while I’m still young/ I want to hold her hand/ Show her some beauty/ Before this damage is done.’’ On “Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains),’’ singer Régine Chassagne laments how we’re “living in sprawl, dead shopping malls.’’
The music, too, cracks open in wide and unexpected ways, from chamber rock (“Empty Room’’) to synth pop [“Half Light II (No Celebration)’’] to ’80s post-punk (“Month of May’’). Frontman Win Butler has had a tendency to steamroll Arcade Fire’s songs with an agitated vocal delivery just shy of screaming, “We’re all gonna die!’’ He’s more measured and intuitive here, finding his place in the songs rather than driving them. It’s clear that in Arcade Fire’s world, the suburbs — no matter how suffocating — are simply a microcosm for society at large. (Out Aug. 3) JAMES REED
ESSENTIAL “City With No Children’’
Arcade Fire performs a sold-out show at the