WOLF PARADE – At Mt. Zoomer (2008)

Wolf Parade - At Mt. Zoomer For a band who were formed more out of necessity than anything else (Wikipedia informs me that Spencer Krug, former member of Frog Eyes, was offered a support slot for an early Arcade Fire tour; he hit up Dan Boeckner, formerly of Atlas Strategic, and thus the band was born), Wolf Parade have ascended into pantheon of revered indie rock idols startlingly quick. Their debut album, 2005’s Apologies To The Queen Mary was an extraordinarily tight collection of pop songs that were wound up like toys and marched off into the pleasure lobes of the brain, where they stayed, and stayed forever.

It’s taken the band three years to get the time to get a sophomore album together, and given the number of other projects the band members are/were involved in (Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake, Fifths of Seven, Handsome Furs, Johnny and the Moon, etc.), it’s kind of miraculous it only took that long. The band could have offered us a great many things with At Mt. Zoomer, including simply more of the same (which, given the quality of Apologies, I’d gladly accept), but the band have spun their sound into something different here. Rather than go straight for the neural-pop pleasure center with laserlike precision, Wolf Parade give the songs on At Mt. Zoomer some room to move around in, and the result is an album that’s every bit as addicting and enjoyable as Apologies, but for entirely different reasons.

The biggest difference in the band’s sound is the increased presence (and altered role) of the keyboard. On older tracks like Grounds For Divorce, for example, the keyboard was strictly wound into the inner mechanics of the song; it functioned perfectly there as a cog of a well-oiled and magnificent machine, working together to keep the song going forward. Whereas on At Mt. Zoomer, the keyboard is given room to glide and dive inside the songs, sometimes pulling, sometimes pushing, but still functioning essentially as a momentum device. You can hear this everywhere on the album: in California Dreamer, in Call It A Ritual, in Fine Young Cannibals, and most notably in the opening track, Soldier’s Grin (which, if ever there is an indie carousel built, this would be the perfect song to loop while the riders circle endlessly).

While the band’s sound may be a bit different, the songs on At Mt. Zoomer are still incredibly infectious. The album’s first single, Call It A Ritual, might seem like an unlikely candidate to promote the album. It’s a thick song, filled with patches of hazy guitar and vocals that have nearly been drowned in reverb. The whole thing is punctuated endlessly by a serious, unbreaking piano. There’s nothing really too accessible about the track, but there’s something about it, some unnamed quality that instills the urge to keep returning to it. I think that the band opting to put forth Call It A Ritual says a lot about where the band are going with At Mt. Zoomer; in a way, the track is most indicative of the stylistic turn the band have taken here.

The album’s best song, the eleven minute closer Kissing The Beehive, blends the musical ideals of Apologies and At Mt. Zoomer into one song (with two distinctive halves). The first half of it is perhaps represents the culmination of the Mt. Zoomer sound. It’s bold, almost frightening at times. The second half of the song sees the band returning the no-holds-barred focus that was everywhere on Apologies. The swinging guitars, the lockstep drum and keyboard lines, even the vocal delivery, it’s all very reminiscent of tracks like Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts. The dual vocals here of Boeckner and Spencer Krug are breathtaking, as are the lyrics, which trade off optimism and monumental disappointments, one after another. I suppose I shouldn’t have doubted the band, but I must confess that I didn’t think (or know) Wolf Parade had it in them to make a song as huge and as intricate as Kissing The Beehive. But I’m glad they could. And I’m certainly glad that they did.

I think I’m in the minority with At Mt. Zoomer in believing that it’s every it as good as Apologies is. The general critical consensus with the album thus far seems to be that while it’s a good album, it’s ultimately missing something. I disagree. I think Wolf Parade are still too young of a band for us to start limiting what their sound is or isn’t, what they’re capable of and what they’re not. At Mt. Zoomer feels to me more like a revelation than anything else. It’s the sound of a band peeling back one more layer of themselves. And in the end, it’s an album that left me both satisfied emotionally, while also wondering what else the band might be capable of.

HD RATING: 9.5/10

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