Three years ago Apologies To The Queen Mary established Wolf Parade as major indie players. Since then, though, the core members’ various other projects and collaborations, including Handsome Furs, Frog Eyes, Swan Lake, and Sunset Rubdown (especially), became the main focus. In fact, at times we wondered quietly and to ourselves if there ever would be another Wolf Parade album. Well, of course, there would be, we just had Sunset Rubdown hype on the brain — it’s here, and it’s very good. The Montreal band’s nine new songs arrive under the At Mount Zoomer moniker, which as we mentioned, is named after drummer Arlen Thompson’s studio Mount Zoomer, where it was recorded. Those devils.
Even folks without torrents have had some time to mull “Call It A Ritual.” It’s a solid, shadowy, at times Spoon-y rollick, but when you become familiar with some of the other songs, it’s maybe not the most likely first single (or whatever we call those things these days). Whatever the case, the collection feels more cohesive as a whole. It’s less about individual tracks or the Dan Vs. Spencer thing than Apologies. The earlier album felt like it alternated between the two vocalists in a sort of SD, SD, SD rhyme scheme. This time, we don’t find ourselves charting the shift between the songwriters, the increased teamwork creating a more meshed, powerful ebb and flow.
Standouts? There’s Dan-fronted opener “Soldier’s Grin” with its Boss-y swagger, airy breakdowns, and descending keyboard hooks. Actually, on Mount Zoomer, the Dan-fronted songs are the best of his career, and often steal the show: Listen to the last-minute build up and bursts of “Fine Young Cannibals” (and its swankier, clamped-down, post-punk shuffle) and “Language City” (and its “we’re not home” versus the insularity of “This Heart’s On Fire” … until you realize…). There’s a train-hopping, new-world-rush throughout “The Grey Estates” as well — a call to ignore new inventions and instead pay attention to the blood coursing through your veins.
Which is not at all to say the Spencer songs lag, just that Dan’s really come into his own as a writer. Krug’s “Bang Your Drum” and “California Dreamer,” which are both good, but not great (OK, the last section of “California Dreamer”‘s great); it’s “An Animal In Your Care,” though, where he gets his Bowie on and tears the roof off the place: “I fell for you because you’re the one who cared,” “You will remember me most by my funeral,” etc. Yeah, he’s wielding the pen mightily. And in some ways, Wolf Parade brings out the best of Spence: We’ve already called him one of the better songwriters of this indie epoch, but where Sunset sees him unchecked in brilliant yet indulgent excess, his fellow Wolf Paraders contain his eccentricity in just the right ways, leading to a songs more pop in form, stamped with that Krugian singularity. So singular, in fact, we just coined “Krugian” in his name.
Of course, after all of our discussion of the album’s cohesion, we describe the songs separately, but the two truly come together on the 11-minute, Jonathan Carroll-referencing duet “Kissing the Beehive” (remember this was the original title for the album, before copyright issues arose). It’s a spiraling epic that might as well have a Greek (or French Canadian) chorus. The lyrics involve holy grails and lines like “you held your cup in the air and you called it a guitar” and shouts of “fire in the hole,” etc. The band’s growth and control is exemplified in the topsy-turvy rising/falling of the instrumental passages. And, when you think it’s over, there’s a brief pause and then a proggy reprise.
We haven’t been listening enough to tease out all the themes, but the first lines of the album (“In my head is a city at night…”) and its idea of running away form the city, cities crumbling, and rushing into a new world pick-up threads from Apologies and continue throughout (there are less ghosts this time). But it’s the idea of keeping a compass in your heart and escaping the pitfalls of numbness at the hands of the “Modern World.” We have to “tear down” “Language City,” ignore the incessant telephones and get to living, etc.
But whatever, we have plenty of time to figure all that out. In the meantime, charts and graphs put aside, we’re enjoying it for what it is: great rock ‘n’ roll.
At Mount Zoomer is out 6/17 on Sub Pop.