26 June, 2008

Album Review - Wolf Parade's "At Mount Zoomer"

Release Date: June 17, 2008
No. of Tracks: 9
Label: Sub-Pop Records

There must be something in the water of our dear neighbours to the north, especially in Quebec. While Wolf Parade are originally from Victoria, British Columbia, the band packed up their gear and aspirations a few years ago to join the exploding indie rock scene of Montreal. And the influences of this multi-cultural city are beginning to be heard in what the band does. On their first album Apologies to the Queen Mary, the band was obviously under the heavy influence of their benefactor Isaac Brock. Isaac discovered the band in a dive somewhere in the Northwest and decided to take the group under his wing for a bit to show them the ropes. That included not only tons of advice from the longtime indie rock staple, but a record deal with legendary Seattle-based Sub-Pop Records. The band was obviously taking good notes.

With the release of their new record At Mount Zoomer, the band shows that they are maturing nicely. The music is more complete with a fuller and more polished sound than found on their previous material. The band relies less on Spencer Krug's warbling voice as an instrument in itself and more on the dynamic mixture of Hadji Bakara's synthesizer and the twin guitar play of Dan Boeckner and Dante DeCaro (formerly of Hot Hot Heat). The result is a cross between post-punk, prog rock, and ambient rock. As you might imagine with a band building on instrumental chemistry, the song compositions are longer than in the past; the nine songs comprising the album clock in at 47 minutes.

The album kicks off with "Soldier's Grin", a rolicking journey of atmospheric synth and alternately choppy and soaring guiatrs. There's even a bit of one-liner philosophy ("What you know can only mean one thing"). "Call It a Ritual" is a slightly morose song featuring piano keys and a nice distortion-heavy guitar shred before the song concludes with a more conventional rhythm guitar structure. "Language City" is the first extended composition with multiple tempo changes that manage to completely change the mood of the song from one to another. "California Dreamer" furthers this trend and evokes a spooky Native American landscape with the guitars, bass, and piano/synth keys. The song does so in the most experimental of ways though, and it challenges the listener to keep up and absorb the multiple elements at once. For those interested in more mainstream, upbeat songs, "The Grey Estates" functions well. The synthesizer, heretofore looming in the background, jumps to the fore and stands out as the crucial element to the track. "Fine Young Cannibals" is the most simplistic of the compositions, but still manages to end greater than the sum of its parts. By the time you get to this song, if you haven't already noticed, you realize that 80% of the guitars are exclusively post-punk in nature. Although it is not the last track, the song plays like one and leaves you wanting to jump right in to the second listen of the record. Ah, but if you did you would miss the actual final track, "Kissing the Beehive". The song is nearly 11 minutes long, but don't let that discourage you. Not a single second is wasted as the song slowly builds towards its impressive crescendo with a few false starts thrown in beforehand to keep the listener thoroughly engaged in anticipation. And just so you know that I'm not blowing smoke, this was originally the title track of the album until it was changed to instead pay homage to the studio in which it was recorded.

Overall this is a great second offering from a very promising band. The record manages to firmly grip the elements of the past while vastly expanding the range of the group's style. You get the feeling the band can literally go anywhere they want from here. Before they do though, you can still catch them at least one more time at a semi-intimate venue as the band embarks on a tour across the continent beginning July 7th. They will be visiting Atlanta's Variety Playhouse on July 28th. As with this album, that show is definitely recommended for your listening enjoyment.

Essential Tracks: "Call It a Ritual", "Language City", "California Dreamer", "Fine Young Cannibals", and "Kissing the Beehive"

Overall album rating (out of 5): 4.3

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