CAN 10,000 ROCK CRITICS BE WRONG?

Certain obsessives trust only the smallest and edgiest of tastemakers. Surely you can't go wrong when the St. Paul Pioneer Press tells you something is "impossible to ignore" and tinymixtapes.com advises you to "Stand back and say, 'Wow'." No, these aren't reflections on Creed's breakup--just some of the buzz about an indie-rock outfit called the Arcade Fire. The band's passionate 2004 debut, "Funeral," made every Converse-wearing critic's Top 10 list, and now the blogosphere has the CD in heavy rotation. "It's word of mouth that brought us to people's attention," says singer Win Butler. "You can't get any more basic than that."

The story of the band's birth comes close. One winter night in 2001 Butler saw Regine Chassagne (say "RAY-jean CHAS-on"--you know you want to) singing jazz standards at an art gallery in Montreal. They started playing together and married two years later. Recording the debut was complicated by family deaths--four of them, thus the album's title.

"Funeral" has every right to be an exercise in mope rock. Instead, it's an escapist fantasy about the virtues of community. And the Arcade Fire's world is huge: Butler and Chassagne are joined by 13 others on the record, which lends it a boisterous, Talking Heads-ish vibe. "When Daddy comes home you always start a fight," Butler sings on one track, "so the neighbors can dance in the police disco lights." Bizarre? Sure. But the band hammers out such airtight pop that you love, not loathe, its eccentricities. "We were just writing a lot of songs with a strong sense of place, trying to build streetlights and houses for the characters to see at night," says Butler. They ended up starting a fire.