Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer
Record Label: Sub Pop Records
Release Date: June 17, 2008
It's been nearly three years since the release of Wolf Parade's last effort, Apologies to the Queen Mary, but that doesn't mean that the masterminds behind the band haven't been busy. Since the 2005 release, Dan Boeckner has released an album with his side project, Handsome Furs, while Spencer Krug's other bands, Frog Eyes, Swan Lake and Sunset Rubdown, have all released albums. With that in mind, it would be no surprise if neither had any fresh ideas left. The latest Wolf Parade release, At Mount Zoomer, is emphatic evidence to the contrary.
The new album find both men flexing their creative muscles and moving slightly away from sound of the previous album and treading some new ground. The trademark synths make their return, but it is clear from the first track that the band are upping the ante. "Soldier's Grin" opens with an electro-tinged groove that wouldn't have sounded out-of-place on Apologies to the Queen Mary, but just past the two-minute mark, the guitars take center stage and have a twangy, alt-country feel. The track sounds like a collaboration between Of Montreal and My Morning Jacket, and it sounds remarkably natural. This stylistic theme pervades the album's nine tracks.
As was the case with the band's last album, Krug and Boeckner split songwriting duties, each contributing four tracks to the album, with the epic, nearly eleven-minute closer "Kissing the Beehive" being the first song co-written by the duo. With Krug playing keyboards and Boeckner on guitar, it would seem logical that Boeckner's contributions would be more guitar-driven, while the Krug-penned tracks would feature the keys more prominently. Generally speaking, this is the case, although Krug's "An Animal in Your Care" is a glaring exception, as it is perhaps the most guitar-dominated track on the album.
The two songwriters are also, once again, taking turns on lead vocals. On Apologies to the Queen Mary, both took on a more spastic vocal approach, reminiscent of Isaac Brock (Modest Mouse), who produced most of that record. This time, Krug's falsetto sounds more like Kevin Barnes (Of Montreal), while Boeckner takes on a more straight-forward, nondescript singing style. There will be fewer Modest Mouse comparisons with this album, though there probably will be some, but the change is welcome. It's a further example of the band moving forward.
While it may seem like the shared songwriting and vocal responsibilities would act as opposing creative forces to diminish the cohesiveness of the record, producer Arlen Thompson (also the band's drummer) pulls everything together nicely. Thompson rightfully went for a minimalist production approach and it serves the band well, allowing each member's contributions to be heard, loud and clear, without the studio gloss. As a result, the impression that the music was made by anything other than a single unit never arises.
When it comes to lyrical content, there is consistency between the contributions of Krug and Boeckner. Frustration with 21st century living was an underlying theme of Apologies to the Queen Mary, and it returns here as well. While Krug's compositions tend toward the enigmatic (see "Call It a Ritual"), Boeckner takes a more straight-forward, literal approach (see "Language City," where he urges the listener to "ignore the ringing telephone"). Perhaps this theme of society becoming more and more indifferent and uncaring is a card that has already been played (e.g. Bloc Party's A Weekend in the City), but it fits incredibly well with the sound that Wolf Parade has created, even more so than on the somewhat peppier Apologies to the Queen Mary. While not short on melody and accessibility, At Mount Zoomer sounds more somber, and occasionally brooding.
Wolf Parade's profile on Sub Pop's website suggests that the band's new musical direction may be construed as a more progressive approach. While "progressive" would not necessarily be an apt description of this record, that doesn't mean the band doesn't demonstrate great musical skill. The aforementioned "Kissing the Beehive" find the band at their finest, in all of its ten-plus-minute glory. Despite not having a chorus or familiar song structure, every second of the track is engaging, a testament to the band's excellence.
Some critics and ardent fans will, no doubt, find fault with the band's new sound. However, it would be a definite mistake to dismiss this album on those terms. It is clear expression of the band's growth. Years from now, will this album be revered as much as their previous album? Only time will tell, but if there's any justice, it will be.