Modest Mouse went platinum, the Arcade Fire turned CMJ into their coming-out party, and Natalie Portman went to bat for the Shins’ life-changing powers in Garden State. It was 2004, and indie rock had officially exploded. Finding themselves in an unfamiliar spotlight and with music bloggers — their newly appointed leaders — behind the wheel, scenesters sought out their next anointed buzz band. On the strength of two self-released EPs and one drunk, sweaty, awe-inspiring CMJ performance, in 2005, all eyes looked to Wolf Parade. Their full-length was unleashed that September, and as predicted, Apologies to the Queen Mary delivered on all counts. Nearly three years removed from its release, it’s an album that people still talk about, still care about, still can’t seem to get over. With its scattershot force, bizarre arrangements and incessant nods to Modest Mouse’s The Lonesome Crowded West (Isaac Brock’s fingerprints are all over it as producer), it’s easily digestible but weird enough that, during a time when everyone from frat boys to tweens were rocking Franz Ferdinand, indie purists didn’t have to worry about it soundtracking The O.C.
As their follow-up descends upon us, Wolf Parade finds itself in a unique situation. More or less shelving the band after the Apologies tour, its members scattered in pursuit of other projects. But even on hiatus, the indie rock community’s fascination with them never let up. The same blogs that were taking bets on what Pitchfork would rate Apologies on the eve of its release (a 9.2, it turned out) have been on 24/7 watch for any Wolf Parade-related activity ever since. Whatever member was playing in whatever band, people were interested. There is, however, one glaring difference between Wolf Parade’s press and typical buzz-band hype: they have yet to receive any significant backlash. From their offshoot albums to their live shows, it’s been pretty much all thumbs-up all the time. At a point when bloggers have become infamous for embracing bands one day and leaving them for dead the next, Wolf Parade remains among the living. But for three years, the pressure has been mounting. Not only must they prove they’re worthy of the praise, they must answer to the success of one another’s side projects: Is Wolf Parade greater than the sum of its parts?
Exactly 46 seconds into At Mount Zoomer — right as the dueling keyboards start bouncing off each other like rubber balls — you are reminded of what sheer talent these guys have for making sounds. The following track confirms that Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug have a way of putting notes together that don’t normally go together. Vocal melodies refuse to follow the instruments in a song, keyboards resemble honking geese, and yet, it’s all just so infectious. Between the two of them, the mic pretty much gets passed back and forth with each track, a tradition that dates back to the band’s first EP, but runs an unprecedented risk this time around. With both singers fronting such successful side projects, At Mount Zoomer could easily become one of Krug’s Sunset Rubdown albums spliced together with Boeckner’s Handsome Furs record. But common threads run throughout, tying it together as a cohesive unit.
Like its predecessor, Zoomer tends to detour from the verse-chorus template, rhythms change at the drop of a hat, keyboards run all over each other, and the drums teeter on dance rock. If Apologies had Wolf Parade sounding like they were on the verge of nervous breakdown, then At Mount Zoomer has them sounding creepily comfortable with being insane. Krug’s hooks are hiding a bit deeper — they’re in there though — and the keyboards are often manipulated to mirror bluesy, jazzier tones. It’s tenser, more demented, and yet eerily smoothed out, as if Spoon went and got all proggy. Without Isaac at the helm in the studio (drummer Arlen Thompson oversaw recording sessions at the Arcade Fire’s church), they sound less and less like Modest Mouse and more and more like a band manically coming into its own. So as Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Tapes ‘n Tapes and the other wunderkinds in the indie-rock class of ’05 suffer from sophomore slumps, Wolf Parade rises to the top. Looks like three years of praise wasn’t unwarranted after all.