Monday, July 5, 2010

Wolf Parade's "Little Golden Age" and "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)"

You don't need me to tell you about Wolf Parade. They've become one of the biggest bands on the planet (in the relative sense, meaning "one of the biggest bands on the planet amongst people with taste like mine, which is such good taste!!") based largely on the success of their 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Have you heard that album? It is better than most albums.

2008's At Mount Zoomer, while possessing mega-jam "Language City" and a few other gems, seemed to most something of a letdown. In my book, the blame for that failure (the album is not a failure, and really, what album wouldn't be considered a failure when held up next to Apologies?) was thrust largely at the boatshoed feet of Spencer Krug, whose tendencies toward prog rock seemed to swallow him whole on tracks like "California Dreamer" and who I suspected of saving his best songs for Sunset Rubdown's then-upcoming third full length. That, by the way, turned out to be completely true -- Dragonslayer was my pick for album of the year in 2009. That declaration, of course, leads us into the boilerplate critical observation of a Wolf Parade review: they have two singers! Those singers also have other successful bands!

See? You turned to OYL for expert analysis, and good for you! Krug's Sunset Rubdown and Dan Boeckner's Handsome Furs are both wonderful bands, in their own right. In fact, most of my well-documented Krug worship devotes itself to the Rubdown. Handsome Furs are almost critically underrated, with last year's outstanding Face Control receiving little, if any, end-of-year attention here in Blogworld. So, with its co-leaders releasing such brainbursting material on their own, where does that leave Wolf Parade? Is that band, in fact, now the side project?

I'll give you a minute to pick your jaw up from the floor. Take a sip of water to remoisten your newly reattached tongue. You will need it to sing these new Wolf Parade songs, both of which are great and both of which are from the so-hot-it-just-dropped EXPO 86. "Little Golden Age" is Boeckner at his strutting New Order by way of Springsteen best, and "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)" has Krug embracing the combo of menace and disco shine that made his early Wolf Parade compositions so wonderful. What's more, both songs are perfect examples of how Boeckner and Krug can reach stratospheric levels when they combine their talents in just the right ways.

"Little Golden Age" wouldn't be the same without Krug's patented "wuh-oh-oh's" carrying it out of the gate, along with his insistent, emotive synth line providing the perfect backbone for Boeckner's twitchy guitar hook. Boeckner's on his game here, writing the kind of character sketches about worn out, lovelorn, tragically heroic outcasts that he (and, yes, The Boss) do so well: "And someone sang about a golden age, / in some rundown park, / drinking in the dark -- / this place was the machine that put the iron in your heart." His voice's uncanny way of shifting instantly from growl to falsetto stuffs the song with enough tension to give it the fuel it needs to become an all out anthem when that tension finally breaks. Fists in the air, heads banging, sweat rolling. Sign me up.

"What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)" is another success story that proves the two songwriters can share. That guitar riff is vintage Boeckner, scuzzy and seductive in all the right places. Arlen Thompson's tireless hi-hat gives the song the proper amount of bounce, and Krug sets his keyboard to "space-age" to provide a perfect halftime counterpoint to all of that energy. His imagistic lyrics are on point, too, nothing like Boeckner's but equally indelible: "I've got a sandcastle heart, / made out of fine black sand; / sometimes it turns into glass / when shit gets hot. / I wonder if all the beaches / in all your holiday towns / will turn to giant shining earrings against / the cheek of the sea, when / finally this supernova goes down." (Notably, his dream journaling is still in effect, as he reminds his listener, "I don't think I should be sorry / for things I do in dreams".) It's his strongest offering on EXPO 86, and it seems like more of a full-band effort than anything on At Mount Zoomer.

The rest of the album holds up well, more or less. True to the pattern the band's been setting in the last few years, Boeckner's songs are stronger as a whole. "Ghost Pressure" snakes insidiously between Krug's synths, and "Pobody's Nerfect" (yes) has an honest-to-God guitar solo that sends me into fits every time. That's not to say that Krug's a slouch. "Cloud Shadow on the Mountain" opens the record with satisfying bombast, and "In the Direction of the Moon" gives us that rare and beautiful creature, not seen since "Dinner Bells": a Wolf Parade ballad. On the other hand, if there's a hook in "Oh You, Old Thing," please find it and mail it to me. I'm loathe to commit any of this Krug hesitance to print, as I still think he's likely the best songwriter around right now (though I do have one more candidate, if you haven't noticed). Whatever the case, I'm happy to have Wolf Parade with us once again. Keep it coming, guys.


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