Jun 17, 2008

At Mount Zoomer-Wolf Parade

So, here we arrive. At this point. With fervour and hope. With unbridled anticipation and momentous expectations. With their debut album, this Canadian band established a benchmark for all things considered monumental in the Indie Rock Universe, whatever that beast may be. "Apologies to the Queen Mary" punched a hole in the stratosphere, tore up the plans, wrote new ones, consumed our hearts and minds. Beauty was shown and excitement delivered. Oh, excitement, commotion, confusion. An achievement in sound, an exploration of the matter that exists between our ears. An innate ability to write songs that actually sound better after the 1000th listen. Lyrics of mystery and substance. Guitar lines that rang in your bones long after the last listen. Keyboards that thrilled and stunned. Vocals that spoke to us in ways unknown to us. Choruses became anthems. Verses became burned in memory. Three years has since lapsed. Things have happened. But, don't mention 'side projects' to me. Principal song writers Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner don't have 'side projects'. They have projects. They don't belong to groups. They belong to music. Wolf Parade are not their mother ship calling them home like errant boys. They write music, mostly stunning, where the muse takes them. It just so happens that in the year 2007 they joined Arlen Thompson, Hadji Bakara and Dante DeCaro to write new songs, new sounds and new chapters. Now, the fruits of that labour have been unleashed unto the world. The results....Stunning. Here is a synopsis.

Soldier's Grin
The humming keyboard instantly reminds us who made this record. Sweet and inviting, hearts rise with Dan's opening salvo. The mesh of guitar, pounding drums and swirling synth is near perfect. Dan has never sounded better and the middle section is stunning. Guitars weep with aching beauty, before the refrain of "And I rode..." sends chills. Like Springsteen woke up one morning and found himself fronting Pavement. According to Dan, this song represents the end of a friend's relationship. Whatever, it's powerful and eternally infectious. A lesson in perfectly placed time changes.

Call It A Ritual
A haunting, brief interlude from Spencer. Vibrating keyboards combine with trilling guitars to concoct a mysterious and mesmeric potion. Cryptic lyrics, it is Spencer after all, are delivered with the aid of reverb to enhance the effect. The moment when the vocals all join together as the band sing "I Am Amazed at How They Go" is simply stunning. I find this song slowly gets under your skin, to where it becomes an essential piece of the puzzle.

Language City
Dan's finest moment. That introductory guitar chord rings with clear effect, before the pounding drums drive us along. I love the ebb and flow on this song. It pushes the pace when it needs and pulls back when required. Moments of subdued beauty are quickly followed by charging choruses. The duel attack of keyboard and guitar, a definite Wolf Parade trademark, have never sounded better. The 3 minutes mark is just gorgeous, a journey to keyboard heaven. "Language City" is a metaphor for all night coke parties, where talk is cheap and unintelligible. A place where "We're tired, we can't sleep" and "It don't mean a thing to me".

Bang Your Drum
The only problem with this song is its brevity. A high pitched keyboard intro gives way to a gentle opening minute. Spencer sings about river beds and hearts and finding your way home. The song only goes into overdrive at around the two minute mark as Spencer lets loose and the song becomes a forceful beast. Probably the most Sunset Rubdown like song on the album, I feel satisfied, yet yearning for more.

California Dreamer
The most infectious song on the album? Probably, yes. A throbbing, pulsating song. Features a killer keyboard line and ferocious drumming. Each verse is a build up in tension, before the choruses cascade like waterfalls. The middle section features some proggy noodling, before the song ascends to a thrilling climax. Spencer sings a tale of letting a love escape the snow for the bright lights and sunny climes of California. Probably one of his most straight forward and hardest rocking songs that he has yet penned. A song determined to electrify live. For a very long time.

The Grey Estates
Probably the weakest moment. As if Dan wanted to prove that he could write a three minute pop song. And he did and quite a good one in that context. But for this band, it feels short of their talent. The melody feels under nourished and incomplete. Dan has said he wrote this song about the train trip from Helsinki to Moscow, continuing his theme of urban desolation and despair. I guess he wanted to wrap those themes up in something short and sweet.

Fine Young Cannibals
If the previous song was perhaps Dan going down the easy path, this number is Dan reaching for the stars. This song swaggers and stalks with epic force, a hulking bluesy excursion into murky waters. Dan has never sounded better, even breaking into some falsetto. The guitar work is vigorous and also meandering, encircling its prey. The listener. My only wish was that it included the joyous backing vocals that the live version contained. I think this song has the ability to prove to be one that gets better with age.

An Animal In Your Care
A song of two halves. A brooding, contemplative opening as Spencer lays bare his heart. He sings of letting himself be the total subject of some one he loves. Of being devoted and hoping that even after death, his memory might live on. Sparse and delicate, a staccato piano leads us to the second half where the song blossoms and grows. Spencer really sings with great conviction, backed up by a rhythmical, tempestuous whirling melody.

Kissing The Beehive
An epic. A beast. An eight-legged monster. A song co-written by Spencer and Dan. A welding of epic talents. Originally the title track, but later withdrawn because of the book of the same name. This song is a pure amalgam of all the elements that make Wolf Parade great. Here are some of the things that thrill me with song.

The slow buildup with Dan's powerful voice.
Then Spencer joins in seamlessly at 1.32.
His voice trembling as he sings, then he says 'sing' and Dan comes back in.
The drums build with intensity. Spencer gets more and more intense.
The chorus of Oh, Oh, Oh, Ohs are just heart stopping.
Then the thump, thump before a slowly twitching guitar.
Then the funky guitar and the keyboards come back in.
A slow down, then WHAM. The drums, the drums.
Spencer singing Jonathan, Jonathan. Holy cow!
The line 'put your ring back on and take your husband home', then more cascading vocals and drums and guitars.
Dan coming back and Spencer singing Oh, Ohs behind him
Then a dead silence.
Then the guitar slinks back in before the drums pound again.
Then the oh, oh, ohs again. The last thirty seconds of this song are just perfect. I always feel a complete satisfaction at the conclusion.

So, there you have it. "At Mount Zoomer", a simple name, but a complex piece of music. It retains that Wolf Parade sound, but adds to it, elongates it, abstracts it. Hard to say that it is better then their debut, few records are, but it is definitely an equally thrilling and important piece of music. If "Apologies..." was a near perfect collection of songs, this album is a tapestry of sounds and voices. Memorable melodies and rhythms, that considerable skill of piecing together crashing guitars, oscillating keyboards and hammering drums into a maelstrom of electrifying sound that few other bands can. If any. Arlen Thompson's production is careful and precise, dedicated to drawing out all the nuances in the band's songwriting. And even though this band features two very strong and unique song writers, the album still manages to feel like a group effort. Which apparently it was, the result of jamming out ideas and figuring where each sound fits best in each song. This is the sound of a band that wasn't content to make a carbon copy of their first album. It is the sound of a band searching for better, reaching into the atmosphere and pulling down lightning bolts. Scaling the peaks of sonic mountains. An effort to be different, not settle for indifference. Album of the year? What else...

MP3: Language City


  • At June 18, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Pitchfork gave this a 7.7 which may be a bit high. Production on this record lets it down. Songs are good though -- but not great

  • At June 18, 2008 , Anonymous not anonymous said...

    anonymous, you couldnt be more wrong. Arlen did a fantastic job on the production, and pfork scored it far too low and fucked up again as always. theyre swiftly losing relevance.... your comment also makes you sound about as snobby as I've ever heard - "may be a bit high...." wanker.

  • At June 19, 2008 , Anonymous Panda08 said...

    I think history will rate this new record as a sophomore slump - first few listens are intersting but it pretty much burns itself out to a fairly souless exercise -- agree on the comment about the average production

  • At June 19, 2008 , Anonymous BIGPaul said...

    Dear Anonymous,

    I agree with Wayne. Production is great on Zoomer! Iv'e listened to it on my ipod and my very expensive stereo system

  • At June 19, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    jeez anyone NOT got their hand on IT? I find it grossly over-produced and self-conscious 80's style; but then that tawdry glamour is fashionable in music at the moment. Puts me to sleep.

  • At June 19, 2008 , Blogger Bazza said...

    Always been a fan of mid-tempo, anthemic, "technically capable musician" type of records and luckily for me this is one of them.

    Sweeping guitar licks, liquid bass lines and intelligent use of beat time signatures all add up to a particularly satisfying audio experience, I dig this a lot!

    I would put this release up there with the new Coldplay album (which I'm loving too) and last years Kenny Loggins album (How about Now) which is flat-out all-time classic


  • At June 19, 2008 , Blogger Wayne said...

    Firstly, I appreciate all the comments, for or against.

    I honestly thought this album would be universally loved, but each to their own I guess. It definitely does not put me to sleep and I think Bazza had some descriptions of the sounds involved. As for the production, I really think it is exemplary. There is a lot going on and that only exemplifies the stellar song writing involved.

  • At June 28, 2008 , Anonymous Sven said...

    Good Job! :)


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