Regardless of what you think of their music, you've got to respect Wolf Parade. When Apologies to the Queen Mary dropped in late 2005 and every music journo prematurely slapped “next Arcade Fire” tags on them, they very easily could've played the comparison to the hilt, touring relentlessly, made themselves available to everyone with a pulse and a wireless connection, and recorded a follow-up as rapidly as possible, lest they not let their red-hot buzz cool off. Instead, they did the opposite.
Sure, they played the festival circuit like any young Canadian band eager to pay their heating bills, but rather than milk their newfound fame, the band took nearly three years off to chase their solo dreams, an odd move for a band this young and untested. Heading back to the lab, Spencer Krug and Wolf Parade's other principle songwriter, Dan Boeckner seemed more eager to create and hone their craft than play the same songs night in and night out while caking off that Sub Pop “sensitive sorostitute” fan base they at least partially cultivated. It was a gamble and one that paid off, with the band alloted time to mature while simultaneously letting the hype burn off as critics that once heralded their arrive are now getting their jollies from more zeitgeist-friendly material like Hercules & Love Affair and Santogold (admittedly, both solid records).
Allowed to evolve somewhat beneath the radar, Krug released two eccentric, brilliant solo turns under the atrocious Sunset Rubdown moniker. Neither drew the insane acclaim myself and a few others deemed them worthy of, but both ultimately met a favorable reception and rubber-stamped Krug's place on the Best Young Songwriter short-list. As for Boeckner, he dropped the solid if not overly spare Handsome Furs LP which confirmed his own significance and more importantly, illustrated that Krug wasn't the only one who couldn't pick a band name or album title for the life of him.
Wolf Parade: Surprisingly Very Little Fun at Parades
Yet for all their solo projects' merits, it's Wolf Parade where both songwriters are at their most accessible and easily enjoyable. Both Boeckner and Krug exert a sort of push-pull on the other, with Krug's arabesque abstraction tempering Boeckner's more straight-forward Springsteen skew and vice-versa. Ultimately, it yields a sense of balance and clarity that both Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs often lack (though not necessarily to their detriment.) The duality appears from the on-set of At Mount Zoomer, with opening cut “Soldier's Grin” halfway to fist-pumping anthem status before halting in its tracks for a woozy, vertiginous bridge of surprising grace and power.
Thankfully re-titled from the abominable Kissing the Beehive, Wolf Parade's second album sounds sleeker and more forceful than Apologies to the Queen Mary, with the addition of ex-Hot Hot Heat guitarist Dante DeCaro beefing up the band's previously ramshackle, lo-fi sound. On the second track, lead single, “Call It Ritual,” Krug gives a Parkinson bleat about “swinging his sword for show, while you turn your flower petals so slow.” His vocals are taken out by a vicious guitar grind and instantly, you become aware that this is a different band, one that's become more polished while simultaneously retaining the tensile quality to their music that made them special in the first place.
It's reductive to call this merely the Krug and Boeckner show. At Mount Zoomer finds the rest of the band making strong contributions, from Arlen Thompson's bruising drum fills and work in recording and engineering the album, to Hadji Bakara's Close Encounters of the Third King synths to DeCaro's pulsing guitar licks that spar with Boeckner to create an almost Television-like interplay. Reviews will inevitably note the record's proggy stoner rock tendencies, but its greatness lies in its inability to be pinned down. At Mount Zoomer is stoner rock that would sound terrible stoned. It's too paranoid, there's too much movement, and too much tremulous alienation in this sepulchral world of radio waves like stone, “100,000 sad inventions rotting inside gray estates” and of course, the kissing of beehives, which I'd wager taste rather like honey (no Jesus & The Mary Chain). In the end, Wolf Parade trump the sophomore jinx, in the process justifying the attention they received three years ago. So long as they don't title their third album, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” everything should turn out just fine.