Funeral

The liner notes to this exceptional debut from the Arcade Fire refer to the recent deaths of several family members — which explains why Funeral aches with elegiac intensity. Chilly imagery from this indie-rock band's native Montreal dominates the album: Characters stumble through the snow, shivering, to meet between their houses while their "parents are crying." "Crown of Love" builds from a mournful waltz to a bustle of choppy violin strokes as singer Win Butler pleads, "If you still want me/Please forgive me." Amid all the loss and breakups, the Arcade Fire manage to also be strangely joyous: Songs such as "Wake Up," which features a choir of voices and a fierce rhythmic stomp, burst with catharsis. The band could have gone for a less direct title, but even then it would have been crystal clear: Funeral captures the agony and even ecstasy of surviving death all around you.