Few bands manage to be as innovative and instantaneously accessible as Wolf Parade, the acclaimed joint project of Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner. The most impressive thing to me about the two collaborators, however, is not the infectious melodies they create or the constant critical acclaim that comes their way, but rather the stylistic transition that both are able to make seamlessly as they jump from project to project. Both have been renowned as a few of the busiest songwriters in indie-rock and their durability throughout the past several years can mainly attributed to the unique and melodically invigorating aspects that their songwriting triggers. For the release of Wolf Parade’s second album, At Mount Zoomer, I knew that reviewing it also meant keeping mind of some pretty hefty expectations. Since 2005, some Krug-related project has peaked in my top 10 for the year. No other artist in the past few years has been as consistent with my personal appeal, though one of the main reasons for this is obviously that Krug releases material abundantly and often. Still though, within the boundaries of Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade, the fact that he seems to improve with each successive release leaves audiences constantly coming back for more.
At Mount Zoomer will hardly feel like a sophomore album to most listeners, as both Krug and Boeckner have been employing reminiscent styles in their respective projects of Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs ever since Wolf Parade originated. But it is also a common belief to state that Wolf Parade’s debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, contains the most accessible material from either artist to date, an aspect that arguably derives from intentions to promote their material to a more diversified audience. This is not to say that they halt all signs of ambitiousness altogether though, as such a method would be impossible when applied to the likes of Krug and Boeckner. In fact, Krug’s share of material on At Mount Zoomer appears most reminiscent to his work with Sunset Rubdown, with the eerily resounding flair of “Bang Your Drum” and “An Animal in Your Care” employing much of they key-oriented formula over the yelping vocals and consistently revolving song structures that made trademark Sunset Rubdown tracks so memorable. In fact, out of Krug’s batch of 4 songs, the key-led thump of “Call It Ritual” is the only attempt that would feel out of place on a new Sunset Rubdown release. The bulk of the track is guided by a repeating piano progression and the occasional smattering of a guitar. The keys are prevalent throughout the entire duration, but the exceptionally unexpected bridge is signaled by a rush of newly attributed guitars and an increasingly intensified use of percussion. The rather straightforward direction of the track makes for an enjoyable effort, but it most certainly has the least staying power due to its comparative predictability.
Personally, when Apologies to the Queen Mary was released, I found myself to be more enamored with Krug’s half of the release. And while it would be a somewhat faulty method to singularly distinguish key-driven tracks as Krug’s work and guitar-driven tracks as Boeckner’s half of the pie, it remains noticeable on At Mount Zoomer that – despite the proficient multi-instrumental tendencies of both musicians – they appear to remain most comfortable in their respective instrumental tendencies. Keeping in mind that At Mount Zoomer comprises of a similar structure in that Krug and Boeckner contribute an even number of separate tracks, I am actually more impressed with Boeckner’s efforts this time around despite Krug’s showings also being expectedly strong. This can be primarily attributed to Boeckner’s increased instrumental virtuosity, as his use of keys and synths has noticeably become more prevalent. This is best evident on “Language City” and “The Grey Estates”, both tracks that utilize an array of sparkling keys in an infectious chorus that is also guided by guitars and rhythmic additives. The optimistically effervescent nature of “The Grey Estates” actually makes a cause for it in being the group’s next single, as the smorgisbord of fluttering keys combined with the accessibly minimal structure will likely be amiably enjoyed by those who have not even yet become acquainted with Wolf Parade. The accessibility reminds me somewhat of “Shine a Light”, another gem written by Boeckner that later proved to be one of the most recognizable efforts on Apologies to the Queen Mary.
Despite Boeckner providing for a more consistent offering of quality songwriting, Krug offers one of the best tracks in the excellent “California Dreamer”. Krug’s skills as both a songwriter and excellent keyboardist are in full display as he shifts a minimal introduction of singular keys and backing percussion into a chorus that is the most anthemic and memorable on the album. “I’ll be round, I’ll be round, I’ll be round,” he sings prior to the bridge. “Like a teenager in town where all the other young lovers are found.” It is a moment that is aided purely by the intensifying tempo of deepened keys, a technique that makes the exceptional chorus that follows even more satisfying. A few shrill chords on keys then follow as the fully bolstered rhythm section emerges for the first time. “And I think I might have heard you on the radio, but the radio waves are like snow,” he shrieks, revealing a line that repeats throughout the song that will undoubtedly be sung by fans over and over again at any randomly placed Wolf Parade show. The cohesive clashing of guitars and keys continue to carry out the remaining 5 minutes of the song, with the chorus being occasionally recalled in the midst of newly formulated bridges featuring both guitars and keys. On Krug’s part, “California Dreamer” comes to be arguably the album’s best song, while his “An Animal in Your Care” appears the most mundane. The best of both worlds, indeed, but Krug remains a vital part in the overall success of the album.
Boeckner’s “Fine Young Cannibals” also serves as a standout, mainly due to a catchy little guitar riff that manages to sound so seductively enthralling over a soulful blend of keys (à la “It’s a Curse”). As the steady delivery of a new wave-like guitar progression eases placidly over concise percussion, it takes over two minutes for the track’s greatest hook to appear. Signaled by the brisk entry of keys, a crescendo of chords flurry over the same guitar progression and intensifying quivers. Consequently, “Fine Young Cannibals” creates a very worthwhile blend of nostalgic new wave and contemporary indie-rock. Keeping in mind that a Krug-Boeckner release without some sort of epic would feel out of place, the concluding “Kissing the Beehive” makes use of both songwriter’s ability to craft alternating song structures within a familiar melody. Though the first several listen will treat nothing to the listener but a few unexpected melodic surprises, each new listen with a better comprehension of the structure provides more in terms of infectiousness and enjoyment. “Put the ring back on and take your husband home,” Krug pleads at one point over a stunning blend of hectic keys and guitars. “Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole! Fire in the hole!” It is a breathtaking closer that contributes substantially to the overall effectiveness of the album. On the masterful “Kissing the Beehive” and in the bulk of At Mount Zoomer, Krug and Boeckner have once again collaborated for one of the most enjoyable indie-rock releases of the year. 8/10
Wolf Parade – California Dreamer