08 July, 2008

...And Out Come the Wolves

I never really listened to Wolf Parade's Apologies to Queen Mary, which was a real lapse on my part. I'm usually a very thorough listener, but somehow their first album snuck right by my ears and into more enlightened cd players everywhere. With this oversight in mind, I've taken it upon myself to write a thoroughly enlightened review of At Mount Zoomer, Wolf Parade's decidedly shorter sophomore album. I've read that it was recorded in Montreal at the church owned by Arcade Fire. Maybe I'll hear ghosts and hallelujah choruses. I can only hope.

"Soldier's Grin" zooms through your ears with computerized sound effects. Circuit bending is obviously a technique that has found its place close to the hearts of Wolf Parade. I also hear the grit and the intensity of early Springsteen in this song. Grit and intensity that can really be defined as the fear at the heart of the 1970s and 1980s exponentially magnified by the uncertain energy of youth (It's like diluted Hunter S. Thompson. It's scary shit, but you're numbed to it by your own inadequacy in a world that's so huge.)

"Call It A Ritual" stretches its mumbled lyrics over tight drums and piano, then slides the whole mixture over some static guitar riffs. Listening to the song is a bit overwhelming mentally; in fact, trying to sort out all of the disparate elements made me dizzy. It's better, with this kind of song, to let the whole thing wash over you and just enjoy the full package. The way the vocalists (Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug) duet with the guitar is really beautiful, and even entrancing when you let yourself go.

"Language City" has circuit bent keyboards and piano applied to a simple melody, creating a feeling that spans at least a century of music. It's a time-warped song, because it doesn't let you feel like you're truly trapped in any one era of music. It transcends genrefication, but is still a catchy song.

"Bang Your Drum" immediately puts me in mind of David Bowie. The vocals are a nice mimicry of Bowie's, but the music sounds classically influenced with only a hint of glam rock. It's like chamber music meets the 1980s, which is a fantastic and unusual combo that before now only Sofia Coppola seemed to really notice (if you watch Marie Antoinette you will also notice the surprising compatibility of 1980s pop/rock with 18th century style classical.)

"California Dreamer" stretches out like a desert. Its defining characteristic is the holes in the song, the empty spaces that make the musical surprises so enjoyable. There's nothing really consistent, except for the pounding drums, but the surprise organ swirls and the guitar and bass transitioning perfectly into keyboard lines. The song is spare, but very well-designed.

"The Grey Estates" hits the highest notes of post-punk perfection. Meld the Strokes most appealing songs with those of the Postal Service and more than a touch of "The Comeback" era Shout Out Louds, and you have this perfectly proportioned dance song. (The real question is, can you even put the Shout Out Louds in their own era? Riddle me this, batman.)

"Fine Young Cannibals" really doesn't invoke the band at all, but it happens to be my favorite song on the whole album. The guitar strikes a nostalgic chord, and makes me think of 1950s rock bands who rumbled along with seemingly no thought to the whole soloing business. (I love this music, but I have a hard time trying to put myself in their frame of mind. Was creativity a dirt word?) Anyway, Wolf Parade shakes everything up with echoing and wailing vocals, and some soft piano playing that haunts and shakes the precision of the song.

"An Animal In Your Care" is Violent Femmes meets the most trippy Velvet Underground music. In one word, it's bizarre. The vocals are purposefully weak and reedy, while the music kind of wavers, exploding in puffs of sound in the background. It is all incoherent, and slightly melodramatic.

This is how we make our way to "Kissing the Beehive", the almost eleven minute long finale to the album. The timing on this song sounds both fast and slow in the beginning, and I'm not quite sure how they managed this effect. However they did it, Wolf Parade created a climactic song, with screaming guitars and harmonized vocal howling giving way to a marching beat, and then an explosion of sound. It's a fireworks display or a meteor shower that you can sit underneath with your mouth hanging open in awe. At seven minutes you think it's over, but the song turns around and wails in the other direction for another four minutes. The pounding and the swirling, the unleashed ferocity of the song take their toll. It's a tiring listen, like replaying the final two minutes of "Stairway to Heaven" for eleven minutes (which I know from experience can actually be very fun!) Still, in the end, it's a gratifying listen. Actually, the whole album is a gratifying listen, and not an experience you should skip if you're anywhere near a music store.

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