It’s a tricky thing for a band with two distinct and divergent songwriters, let alone two with dramatically different singing styles, to craft a unique and cohesive sound. As unique voices go, Wolf Parade’s Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner are about as polarized as two songwriters can be within the somewhat nebulous constraints of guitar-driven indie rock. And yet, the band has managed to put together two of the finest, most taut and well-sequenced albums in indie rock of the past five years. Their crowning achievement, 2005’s Apologies to the Queen Mary, set an amazing standard for four skinny guys with guitars and a truck full of melodies, lining up a dozen songs that alternately displayed Boeckner’s more straightforward, Springsteen-esque anthems with Krug’s operatic art rock standouts, and in a way that found them working together in sequence, rather than fighting against one another. Likewise, At Mount Zoomer found the band growing in a more progressive direction, while maintaining the tight pop sensibilities of their debut, all while displaying both songwriters’ styles in harmonious contrast to one another.
On album number three, titled Expo 86 after the historical World’s Fair in the band’s native Vancouver, that contrast has balanced out quite a bit, while revealing an even tighter unit. Where before, a Krug composition or a Boeckner tune stood out as uniquely the product of its composer, here the lines blur even more, suggesting that as they progress as a band, Wolf Parade’s central figures aren’t so much writing Spencer Krug songs or Dan Boeckner songs, but simply Wolf Parade songs.
Krug kicks off the album with the urgent rush of “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain,” which is surprisingly straightforward for a song that finds the singer bleating “I was asleep in a hammock…I was a dreamcatcher hanging from the window of a minivan parked along the water’s edge.” The simplicity does Krug well, however, turning what could have been a wild excursion into art rock histrionics into an ass kicking highlight. Bockner takes the reins afterward with “Palm Road,” a more heroic though less fiercely rocking song, before Krug’s “What Did My Lover Say” lurches in, a sinister, slower disco cousin to 2005’s “It’s a Curse.” And by track four, Boeckner’s “Little Golden Age,” it’s clear that the band has hit a pretty unstoppable groove. Big synths and vocal howls kick off more Springsteen-style grit-n-roll, big on both heart and melody.
Though the band has a much tighter, less stylistically divergent sound on display on Expo 86, a side effect of this strengthening as a unit is that there are few tracks like “Shine a Light” or “I’ll Believe in Anything,” which positively stun on first listen. Rather, the tracks here take a little more warming up to, though their charms are certainly quite seductive. “In the Direction of the Moon” is one such song that grows awesome with a few listens, throbbing and echoing with a funk that suggests either Spoon or late ’70s Stones through a new wave filter. Yet “Yulia” is far more immediate, taking the earnestness of “This Heart’s On Fire” and rocking it out more for a song that marks one of the band’s best standalone songs.
As Wolf Parade matures, they may be sacrificing something in the way of spontaneity or exclamatory musical statements. But on Expo 86, they’ve sacrificed nothing in the way of a good song. Perhaps a little more patience is required, particularly when the majority of songs expand past five minutes each, but the reward is a solid and deftly executed work of a band growing more comfortable in their skin and more confident in their craft.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.