Try this on for size. You're a proper indie hipster circa mid-Aughts; you read Pitchfork and you've got your messenger bag and your asymetrical haircut. You're hard up for new music to hype. Modest Mouse made the ghastly error of becoming somewhat popular among mainstream mundanes, everyone and her hip-with-it granddad are fans of Arcade Fire, and it's been years since Radiohead put out anything but concert tickets you'd have to sell your kidney over Ebay to afford. And then, whadya know but Wolf Parade comes stumbling through the door. They're based out of Montreal, they're disheveled in exactly the right way, they give awesomely weird interviews, they sort of seizure all over their instruments onstage, and they, well, they fucking rock. Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a winner.
This was more or less the attitude toward Wolf Parade's first album, Apologies to the Queen Mary, when it exploded all over the indie rock scene in September, 2005. If you happen to follow music blogs and artsy review sites (and, I mean, I don't blame you if you don't, it can get tedious), you're probably just a little sick of Wolf Parade. There's only so many podcasts, mix discs, and playlists prominently listing that spastic ballad "I'll Believe in Anything" you can handle before you begin to wonder if maybe folks are buying into a stock of Dutch tulips with this band.
The thing is, I promise you, Wolf Parade doesn't need the hype. Their anthems don't sound better if you know PopMatters engineered a whole post-modern deconstruction of the music press around them. Their album doesn't kick off any harder if you know Isaac Brock got them signed to Sub Pop. Wolf Parade is made up of no-holds-barred manic rockers with freaky, beautiful ideas about what makes good music, and this is genuinely the best band I've seen to come out of 2005. I pray to every tribal god of the insular little island of Indie that they'll be around for years to come.
The Apologies to the Queen Mary album cover is wrapped in seventies-kitsch wallpaper, all diamonds and circles and dull shades of pink. Cute, corny, but somehow a little menacing. This is a good hint to the quality of the music under the sleeve. Wolf Parade appropriate tinny synths, toy bells, slide whistles, hand claps, muzak melodies, and raw machinery clicks and clanks together with standard guitar work in a cunning deception. They take a combination that should by all rights sound unbearably hokey and turn it transcendent. This is rock, no doubt, but it's rock echoing out of a music box with orchestral breadth, simultaneously lonely and crowded.
The music of Wolf Parade slips in and out of familiar rock motifs, a complex and noisy negotiation between pop and experimental. The singing is no different. Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner trade off lead singing duties almost song by song, an approach strengthened by their complimentary voices. Where Krug has a Bowie inflection to his singing, with a tendency toward voice-breaking emotionalism, Boeckner is a shot of cheap vodka, rough and smoldering all the way down, but you'll get drunk on him damn fast. They both make fantastic, frenzied leads, and the albums steers better with both at the helm.
Given the two different styles of singing, it's good that the songwriting sticks to a common theme. Apologies
is an album infatuated with the grit and grime of modernity. This is a very unhealthy sort of obsession, the kind you write hate letters over. It surely can't help the sanity of either Boeckner or Krug that their world of the twenty-first century is spilling over with ghosts, corpses, and malevolent spirits. You'd forgive them if they tend toward violent moodswings. The mundane and the mystical, the natural and the artificial, the manic and the despondent, the familiar and the surreal; all cross wires over the tracks of this album in a way that very much catches a bit of this decade's zeitgeist. If Radiohead's OK Computer painted a rather uncomfortable masterpiece of the 90s, then I wouldn't be surprised if Apologies ends up picturing the 2000s, in retrospect.
There's not one track of fluff, no single slip-up across this entire album, but here are some highlights: Don't have your earphones turned too loud at the start of Apologies. You might blow out your eardrums with the industrial drumming the kicks off the opening track "You Are A Runner And I Am My Father's Son." An organ joins in to play tag-team assault in the background of Krug's wailing as he sings in harmony with a choir of Krug-clones, "I'll draw three figures on your heart / One of them will be me as a boy / One of them will be me / One of them will be me watching you run." Such are the sort of imagistic sentiments that keep the album churning, as Wolf Parade injects the freakish and the gorgeous into the boring details of everyday life whether you want them to or not. Over the ADHD scatterbrain bounciness of "Grounds for Divorce," Krug sings with a sort of sullen good cheer, "You said you hate the sound / of the busses on the ground / You said you hate the way they scrape their brakes all over town / I said pretend it's whales / Keeping their voices down / Such were the grounds for divorce, I know." I guess this fanciful ex-wife wouldn't have appreciated the punk nightmare imagery of Boeckner's rocker "It's a Curse" either: "From the top of the mountain to the rock and sand / We drive the dead farther west till they ran out of land / We walked five whole minutes to the dark edge of town / Took a long look at nothing and turned back around."
And, of course, any review of Apologies can't go without mentioning the stand-out track among a whole album of stand-outs. I assume Wolf Parade employed stilts in the particular case of "I'll Believe Anything," a triumphant lovesong-cum-manifesto, fighting the sober forces of stagnation with an utter lack of doubt. Take that, Skeptical Inquirer. It's difficult to put into words the cathartic brilliance of this anthem. If you take any song off Apologies as your test run for Wolf Parade, pick "I'll Believe in Anything."
Who is this "Queen Mary," by the way, and why are we apologizing to her? Well, you see, Wolf Parade was forcibly removed from a cruise ship named the Queen Mary when they, on a whim, broke down the ship's ballroom doors to stage a violent séance. Which is, kudos to them, a terribly appropriate way to characterize this album.
Wolf Parade is...
Apologies to the Queen Mary is...
- Dan Boeckner: vocals, guitar
- Spencer Krug: vocals, keyboards
- Arlen Thompson: drums
- Hadji Bakara: sound manipulation
- Dante DeCaro: guitar, percussion
- "You Are a Runner, and I Am My Father's Son"
- "Modern World"
- "Grounds for Divorce"
- "We Built Another World"
- "Fancy Claps"
- "Same Ghost Every Night"
- "Shine a Light"
- "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts"
- "I'll Believe in Anything"
- "It's a Curse"
- "Dinner Bells"
- "This Heart's on Fire"