Members of Wolf Parade have done a bit of explaining about the band’s third album EXPO 86. We were told the main criteria Spencer Krug had for the songs was “whether or not [he] would dance to them.” He continued: “You know in Archie comics when there’s a school dance and you see little cartoon music notes floating out of the PA speakers? I like to think this new record sounds like those notes.” For his part, Dan Boeckner said EXPO 86 is a “dense” and noisy album that he feels is “more focused” and has “more energy” than At Mount Zoomer. We’ve been listening to this hour of new music all weekend and agree with both songwriters.
Five years after Apologies To The Queen Mary, Wolf Parade have become a solid indie-rock institution. For some reason, though, they’ve yet to crossover like Arcade Fire or even the more idiosyncratic Animal Collective. Maybe because, at times, they feel more like a project than a band, their various side projects seemingly taking precedence. That feeling could shift here … When we evaluated Mount Zoomer, we mentioned its cohesion, but EXPO 86 is tighter and more “band-like” than we’ve ever heard these guys. It’s likely not going to hit you like Apologies To The Queen Mary did all those years ago, but it’s more immediately enjoyable than At Mount Zoomer, and we’re finding more enjoyable details as we return to it. This is largely because of Krug’s contributions … but not for the reasons you might think.
Boeckner generally comes out of the gate swinging — it’s the up-tempo Springsteen-esque thing to do. On Expo, Krug matches, and at times surpasses, that energy. If you listen to Mount Zoomer again, Krug’s songs were generally mellower, knottier, and weirder. Which is great, but he can also write anthems. See, for instance, the last section of Zoomer’s “California Dreamer” or “An Animal In Your Care.” We see a more of those here: For starters, the incantatory, dust-kicking opener “Cloud Shadow On The Mountain.” (Followed by Boeckner’s mellower “Palm Road.”) On it, Krug howls and harmonizes about boat shoes, dream catchers, scorpions, and island-jumping gazelles while distorted guitars ring out and Arlen Thompson gives his set a workout.
We also get guitar swagger on “What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way),” which we heard live before we knew its name and officially when we did. Krug switches things up and slows things down, but even the less straightforward “In The Direction Of The Moon” has a funky dance-step to it that counters its drifting ambient moments. Ditto the fist pumping “Two Men In New Tuxedos.” Or the synth ‘n’ guitar “Oh You, Old Thing,” in which he mentions cutting a rug. (EXPO 86’s new wave undertones are maybe a nod to the year referenced in its title.) And “Cave-O-Sapien” is an addictive, unhinged chant-along closer. It’s fitting this one includes moments of folks shouting together.
Last time we mentioned Boeckner was coming into his own as a songwriter. We thought to mention it because he often gets overshadowed by Krug. Here, his work has a tendency to sound a little same-same. The previously mentioned “Palm Road,” for instance, isn’t his best moment. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t stand out like his classics. “Little Golden Age” is a better take on that general idea. And he’s sharper and more memorable on “Pobody’s Nerfect,” which marries a crushing side with softer side and an almost gothy side (there’s room for all inside it). There’s the hazily textured, escalating “Yulia.” He also puts a decent foot forward on the previously enjoyed “Ghost Pressure.”
The increased cohesion benefits both writers. More than any previous offering, EXPO 86 works especially well as a complete listening experience: Threads are picked up, guitars ring out and diminish, choruses echo. Songwriters blend. In fact, despite what we just did, it’s best enjoyed when you forget who wrote what, sit back, and just listen. It’s Wolf Parade’s “band” record.
EXPO 86 is out 6/29 via Sub Pop.