While the recent resurgence of Afro-pop-punk is nice (Johnny Clegg is finally cool!), Vampire Weekend and the like can often feel pretty feckless. There’s nothing wrong with that, but well, sometimes rock needs a little feck.
Enter Wolf Parade.
The group’s new album Expo 86 has moxie to spare. Bedroom kids will be burning out nightlights and callusing their fingers to the new release in no time at all, pressing its chords into their brains and muscle memory.
The Montreal-based foursome isn’t reinventing the wheel, but they’re certainly kicking it down the hill with a fair amount of force. All starry-eyed sonic youngsters are just products of the young before them, including those individuals we’ve rightfully christened as gods. Thievery makes for good music, after all, and although not quite in the same echelon as your Zeppelins or your Husker Dus, Wolf Parade is adept enough at emulating the noisemakers they love to warrant any and all attention it receives.
Wolf Parade’s debut, Apologies to the Queen Marie, was pointed, noisy and meaty enough to kink a neck in all the right places. The follow-up, At Mount Zoomer, seemingly separating the disparate personalities of its principal songwriters Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, was less focused but still potent. Things get tight again on Expo 86.
For the first few tracks, however, that tightness is not immediately apparent. The first song, “Cloud Shadow On The Mountain,” is an unmistakably Krug-penned epic, and the second, “Palm Road,” is undoubtedly a Boeckner rocker. Upon first listen the major problem with the band’s second album — the evident Krug or Boeckner trade-off from song to song — has returned. Why is this such a problem?
Krug and Boeckner are shockingly prolific creators, and both have — or have had — very successful solo and side projects. Krug is a former member of Fifths of Seven and Frog Eyes, a current member of Swan Lake (with Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer) and Sunset Rubdown, and the sole member of his Moonface project. Boeckner, a former member of Atlas Strategic — which was almost signed to Sub Pop, Wolf Parade’s current label — is the lead singer and guitarist of the Handsome Furs, an excellent synth-punk duo also signed to Sub Pop. There is no shortage of material that showcases the talent and style of Wolf Parade’s two-man nucleus. The other side of that awesomely prolific coin is that it will become very clear very fast if Wolf Parade becomes an arena for the two to pitch their solo ideas.
This is the fear heading into the third track on Expo 86, but in what can only be described as a modern miracle of synergy, “What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way)” gels. And it’s fantastic. It truly sounds like an amalgamation of the long list of Wolf Parade-associated works. Yeah, it’s a Krug-track with very Krug-vocals and with withdrawn, but still evident Krug-esque lyrics. But Boeckner brings in a very Boeckner-y riff, and about halfway through the song, listeners will stop caring which of the two was calling the shots. For the first time since the group’s debut, a Wolf Parade song can be described without bending members’ names into adjectives. This song just rocks.
Credit is due, in no small part, to multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro and drummer Arlen Thompson for filling in for everything that Krug and Boeckner choose not to do.
While there’s too much going on here to nitpick any of DeCaro’s contributions, Thompson does leave something to be desired. He feels very restrained here, and unlike his work with Arcade Fire, the drums don’t greatly augment the experience. Thompson is capable of much more and certainly he’ll bring heavier sticks and a little swagger to these songs on the road. Get excited to burst some eardrums to the sound of “Ghost Pressure.”
They’re not rock gods (yet), but these four music geeks swinging their instruments around have managed to make good ol’ fashioned garage-born racket, with ace production to boot. Expo 86 is a crowning example of rock done best by those who do rock best, nerds! If they keep it up, they’ll be donning dorm walls in no less than 20 years, and the resident cool kid will be saying, “They don’t make them like they used to.”
You’re probably right, cool kid. But they do come awfully close.