I’ve been waiting for Wolf Parade to reconvene from various side projects and record and release new music since their second album, 2008’s At Mount Zoomer, cemented me as huge fan of the band. That album had a classic New York underground rock feel to it akin to late 1970’s Television and I was blown away by overlapping and meandering guitar solos, keyboard sound effects and playful drum and bass grooves. Still, the indie feel inherent in Wolf Parade was never far, just polished up with a little with some New York glitz. Sweet stuff indeed! I ranked that album as my third favourite of 2008 – a list you can find here.
With the release of the band’s third full length album (June 29, Sub Pop Records), they’ve allowed themselves to flash-forward a decade or so. Well, figuratively speaking, anyway.
Expo 86, named after the world fair event held in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in that same year, is a thrusting rock-pop gem of an album – a combination and culmination of what was attempted and what was learned on both of the two previous Wolf Parade albums as well as the band’s respective side projects.
Cloud Shadow On The Mountain kicks the record off with a rolling surf-inspired drum beat, joined quickly by a repeating sharp but playful guitar lick. While Spencer Krug, one half of the lyricists in the band, calmly states “I was asleep in a hammock, I was dreaming that I was a web” you can’t help but feel somewhere on a west coast sand dune, water lapping on the shoreline nearby. Immediately you’re moved to understand that Cloud Shadow has teeth. The chorus thumps fast and furious, akin to an early Pixies sound, as does Krug’s vocal chant of “oh oh oh oh”. It’s a classic album opener – different from what Wolf Parade has done before, but always within their soundscape too – something that is immediately them.
Palm Road follows, written by the band’s other half, the rock-pop influence of guitarist Dan Boeckner. The sound is still that of the group but it follows a slightly more mainstream line here with hooks and riffs as easily accessible as anything Wolf Parade has done previously. This idea can be heard on another Boeckner penned piece, the shimmering Yulia, a pop gem reminiscence of your favourite songs from high school, an instant classic. It’s sure to be a live set favourite with Boeckner belting “There’s nothing out here!” again and again. Listen to it here.
The standout track on Expo 86 is the first single: Krug’s incensed, confused and resolute What Did My Lover Say? (It Always had to Go This Way). This is quintessential At Mount Zoomer Wolf Parade sounds with layered keyboards, drum solos and overlapping, sometimes staccato guitars. It’s stadium-sized rock stardom with sing-along lyrics at their very best. “I’ve got a friend who’s a genius, nobody listens to him,” sings Krug, before lividly adding “I’ve got some friends who are famous, la la la la la la la”. If there’s one thing I know about music – it’s that everyone knows exactly what “la la la” really means. Play it loud – What Did My Lover Say? (It Always had to Go This Way) is a timeless rock anthem.
It should be mentioned that the groove section of drummer Arlen Thompson and bass guitarist Dante Decaro bring an enormous amount of energy and art-rock cred to the album. They are indispensible pieces to the musical whole here, keeping each song tight, moving quickly from verse to chorus, enabling your foot to incessantly tap and your fist to continuously pump. You’d think that with all the side projects Wolf Parade has inspired, that the band would dissipate into a musical void but there’s something magic when these musicians get together. A sound is created that is instantly memorable and timeless, that is as much dependant upon the art rock-pop music that has gone before as it blazes a new musical trail, song after song, album after album.
With eleven tracks, Expo 86 may be Wolf Parade’s most accessible and best album to date. It’s definitely a strong contender as a top album of the year. Don’t walk. Run to the store to pick this record up!