Interview: Wolf Parade
Canadian indie rock outfit Wolf Parade is famous for an experimental sound rife with hybrid synthesizer melodies and mechanically, mathematically-sound rhythmic interplay, something which comes as no surprise on the group’s third full-length, “Expo 86”.
The album opens strong, with “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain,” a track featuring Spencer Krug’s punctuated and abrasive vocals, which give way to the idiosyncratic sound of pointedly raw guitars and driving rhythm that are Wolf Parade’s trademark.
This batch of songs undoubtedly contains telltale features of the members’ other musical projects, which include Sunset Rubdown, Handsome Furs, Hot Hot Heat, Arcade Fire and Swan Lake, to name a few. But that certainly comes as no surprise; the cohesiveness of the group’s sound is evident on “Expo 86” and the way in which it both emulates and draws upon the members’ other projects is somewhat magical.
“Palm Road” continues where the first track left off, as the haunting voice of Dan Boeckner saunters over complex drums, phasing keyboards and slight dark undertones characteristic of his songwriting.
The album slows down a bit toward the middle, with the even-paced “In the Direction of the Moon,” a song which employs pentatonic-inspired variations on melody, giving it a fuzzy, angular sound.
Further along, Boeckner pulls from a new wave-inspired sound on “Ghost Pressure” with its cheeky and playfully contrived synthesizers and mischievously demure lyrics.
As songwriters, Krug and Boeckner are certainly nothing less than prolific, and both have a songwriting style that has undoubtedly matured over the years. But before too long, even the faster-paced songs on this release tend to drag ever so slightly. It’s not so much the length that weighs it down. Rather the repetitiveness of the music functions as the culprit, with dynamic songs that carry the listener through, but not much farther beyond. And even though the final song, “Cave-o-Sapien” ends the album on a catchy, dance-inspiring and dynamic note, it still can’t quite redeem the entire album.
On the whole, “Expo 86” contains plenty of fantastic moments that are bound to capture attention, yet lacks the punch in the gut that leaves the listener breathless - one fans of the band know Wolf Parade is certainly capable of delivering.
Luckily, the band always has the live show to reinforce the recorded product, and they don’t back down on the delivery. Just a short month after the release of “Expo 86” the group stopped in Oakland, Calif., this past Friday, playing a headlining set at the Fox Theater to a sea of bobbing heads and flailing arms under a projection of blue and red lights.
And to the band’s credit, Wolf Parade manages to dispel the subtle monotony of “Expo 86” as an album while performing songs live, possessing an undeniable energy that bursts with contagious fervor and excitement. It’s as if the album is the spark that never quite ignites, while the live performance is the fuel that brings new life to the songs.
After performing its own sound check, Wolf Parade took to the stage, playing more than a dozen songs with an even rotation of the entire catalogue. Long gone are the days of promoting a new album with new material only, it seems, and Wolf Parade was more than happy to play all the fan favorites, interspersed with select titles from the new album. All of it was topped off with an encore that the band made audience members work for.
“You guys are sweethearts,” Krug told the crowd between songs, but the foursome was just as endearing and equally engaging, proving that there is far more to a band than just its releases.
“Expo 86” is undoubtedly great, but it is certainly not Wolf Parade at its greatest. At 55 minutes and 34 seconds, the album falls just short of the hour-long mark, which is slightly too long to hold the attention of listeners attuned to the half-hour albums that tend to be the trademark of the indie rock world.
However, the album’s 11 tracks translate more than well on-stage, making for a vigorously upbeat and innovatively refreshing live show. And while it was Wolf Parade’s first appearance in Oaktown, hopefully it won’t be its last.