Sunday, June 15, 2008

Record Review: Wolf Parade

Wolf Parade
At Mt. Zoomer
[2008, Sub Pop]

Since the band’s debut in 2005, Wolf Parade as a whole has remained relatively silent. Other than unveiling occasional new tracks at shows, the band’s co-leaders, Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug, have focused most of their energies on radically different side projects. Boeckner’s Handsome Furs offered stark, direct songs with a limited instrumental palette. At the other end of the spectrum is Krug’s Sunset Rubdown, which released the sprawling, extravagant Random Spirit Lover, in 2007. The band returns with At Mount Zoomer to excessive levels of anticipation.

Just as on Apologies to the Queen Mary, the two singers alternate between lead-vocal duties, sharing the microphone for only one track (“Kissing the Beehive”). Dan Boeckner launches the album with the jittery post-punk vibe of “Soldier’s Grin”, his characteristic snarl sounding as feral and vitriolic as ever. Krug follows after with a heavily syncopated, rollicking piano waltz, “Call it a Ritual”. For his songs, he affects a fervid caterwaul, a spectral falsetto, or manic yelps, often employing any combination of these on the same track. Both vocalists are well suited to the songs they sing, and the sharp contrast between them makes for a very enthralling listen.

Mt. Zoomer is more mature and bears higher production values than its predecessor. Spencer Krug and Hadji Bakara provide sounds ranging from Kitschy Analog synth (“Soldier’s Grin”, “Language City”), 70’s car-chase electric piano (“California Dreamer”), even saloon ready honky-tonk piano lines (“The Grey Estates”). Arlen Thompson provides solid drum work, ranging from straightforward stomp to propulsive motorik rhythms (“The Grey Estates”). The album sounds as if it could surpass the debut until “Fine Young Cannibals” begins. The track simply doesn’t accomplish anything, and meanders along a boring, well-trod jam-path for six and a half minutes. It makes “An Animal in Your Care”, a decent but sub-par Krug track, sound like a masterpiece.

From the opening measures, “Kissing the Beehive,” promises to redeem the album’s lackluster tracks. Beginning with a stuttering 9/4 march, the track ascends to an expected but satisfying climax at 3’30, where proggy stabs of synth and guitar are anchored by crashing cymbals and pounding drums. Afterwards, the band proceeds toward a denouement, and the song feels more than finished at the seven and a half minute mark. The following three minutes contain a tepid, uninspired jam session. Apologies ended wisely with a rousing, succinct finale. “This Heart’s On Fire”was Wolf Parade’s [deservedly] triumphant victory lap. “Kissing the Beehive”, however, is trying and tedious, and feels more like a conciliatory, indulgent second place award.

Despite two disappointing tracks, At Mt. Zoomer is a great record. Wolf Parade set the bar for themselves almost impossibly high with the brilliant Apologies to the Queen Mary, but this album certainly shouldn’t be denigrated to “sophomore slump” status. It’s enjoyable, captivating, and manages to expand upon the band’s well-established sound, while staying faithful to what made them so unique in the first place. 


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2 comments:

Kaitlyn Rose said...

Love this post! Your vocabulary isn't over-the-top and it makes me really want to sit down and listen to these tracks together. I'd like to listen for your critique. Nice job!

pulchritude said...

i'm impressed. you're really good at this reviewing business. hopefully relevant will accept some stuff. - leah