"At Mount Zoomer," Wolf Parade's new jam album on Sub Pop Records, improves on the already-classic debut "Apologies to the Queen Mary"; the band is on the SP20 lineup at the Seattle-area Marymoor Park on July 12.
Montreal-based indie-rock band Wolf Parade put out a new album last month, and “At Mount Zoomer” is way better than anyone had a right to expect.
The quintet had such colossal success on the brilliant 2005 album “Apologies to the Queen Mary” that even the band members (Spencer Krug, keys and vocals; Dan Boeckner, guitar and vocals; Dante DeCaro, guitar, percussion; Arlen Thompson on drums; and Hadji Bakara, sound manipulation and keys) figured they couldn’t top themselves.
Post-“Apologies,” Boeckner and Krug started other bands (Handsome Furs and Sunset Rubdown, respectively), and, on the phone from his Montreal home, drummer Arlen Thompson says Sub Pop, their label, was likely worried a new album wouldn’t happen at all.
“I think they were happy we had a record to turn in. We’re not the most linear band in a lot of ways, everybody’s got a lot of things going on, and we’d been talking about making a record for a while and never got around to starting.”
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Sunday at Marymoor Park in Redmond as part of SP20, Wolf Parade closes out the two-day concert celebrating the label’s 20th anniversary.
Back in 2005, amid much buzz (Isaac Brock from Modest Mouse loves this band! They’re from Montreal and hang out with that other incredible Montreal indie-rock band, Arcade Fire!), “Apologies” introduced Wolf Parade as alternating tracks of a Boeckner/Krug song-writing duel — cool baritone vs. spastic tenor, American gutter-glam guitar rock vs. histrionic British keyboard rock. Home runs abounded: “I’ll Believe in Anything” is one of the finest songs of this decade.
Famously snarky taste-making Web site Pitchforkmedia.com gave “Apologies” a 9.2 rating (yes, that’s out of 10) and legion indie-rock fans called it a classic.
Though they probably wouldn’t have minded if they made “Apologies” again (something Boeckner has said would have been easy), Wolf Parade wanted “At Mount Zoomer” to be pointedly different. “No singles,” they told Sub Pop.
Sure enough, “Zoomer” shows telltale signs of an ambitious band fixing what wasn’t broken: new inclinations toward prog-rock’s time-signature play and a desire to (gasp!) jam. The very idea of jamming freaks out Wolf Parade fans. For hipsters — and every WP fan has a hipster bone in their body — the word “jam” is the anti-cool, bringing to mind ponytails and socks and sandals.
Hipsters oughtn’t fret. “Zoomer” is not noodle-y.
“It was pretty apparent when we were making the record that it was pretty jammy and psychedelic,” explains Thompson. “But we tend to be pretty concise about stuff.”
So the intent was the new album would swing between “jam” and “concise” poles?
“I’d say so,” Thompson says. “Those are the two ends that are tugging at each other.” He admits, “There’s a temptation for things to get too sprawly at some points,” then explains, “we tried to embrace it, but I feel we tend to be pretty economical,” adding the “Zoomer” sessions were the most “focused” Wolf Parade had ever been.
They recorded last summer in and around Montreal. “We worked on a lot of songs beforehand at the space we put together called Mount Zoomer, and then spent 10 days at the church and recorded there,” says Thompson, who produced the album himself.
That’s the same church outside Montreal where Arcade Fire recorded their second album.
The result is a perfect marriage between the styles that made Wolf Parade famous, plus a real feeling of “band,” like five members all on the same inspired page.
“Soldier’s Grin” begins the album with busy drumming and strumming; it sounds good right away, but when the compact ADHD structure is interrupted by a swooning guitar breakdown, it takes a turn for the sublime. “An Animal in Your Care” is epically good, its first half ornate and tenuous, its second a slow-build head nodder that speeds into a recklessly delivered, deeply rewarding power anthem only Wolf Parade could pull off. “Bang Your Drum” starts off with Krug doing chord-y and involved keyboard work, but resolves halfway into a regal chant fit for a pub or campfire, a memorable fragment Wolf Parade might formerly have ridden for an entire song.
The “singles” are still there — in all Wolf Parade’s trademark frantic, soul-saving glory — buried inside the sound of a band working together.
And therein lies the lesson of “Zoomer”: Respect the album, respect the band. Wolf Parade has hits and Boeckner and Krug are stars, but they’d rather push themselves and try to be the best band out with the best album. It’s a worthier challenge, and Wolf Parade is up to it.
Andrew Matson: 206-464-2153 or email@example.com