Wolf Parade - Expo 86

Album cover
Indie, Rock
Sub Pop Records
Wolf Parade
Expo 86
Wolf Parade - Expo 86 Review rating:
3
User rating:
Average: 3.7 (3 votes)

Every other reviewer is scared to give Wolf Parade's third full-length anything under 75% or anything over 85%. When I see such agreement between critics, it can mean one of two things: either the album is spectacular and there is something that the reviewers are missing (i.e. Hot Chip's One Life Stand), or the album is barely passable among the general public but somehow found its way onto the critics' "Darling" list (i.e. Sleigh Bells' Treats). But that is about to change. Because in an entirely paradoxical manner, the Canadian indie-rock foursome's kooky 2010 release is both spectacular and barely passable.

One part The Strokes, one part Broken Social Scene, and one part Surfer Blood, these hipsters always seem on the verge of Arcade Fire-like indie stardom. But three critically-acclaimed albums have come and gone, and frankly, the band are no closer than when they started. If anything, they're further away - when your back catalog is as divisive as theirs is, sorting through it is a job enjoyed only by music fanatics and those with a lot of patience. In the Age of ADD, most listeners will move on to the newest "Darling" of whichever scene they favor.

Another part of Wolf Parade's bipolar tendencies is their song length: past gems have ranged from under 3 minutes (2005's "Modern World") to nearly 7 minutes (2008's "Fine Young Cannibals"). But they have resolved that on Expo 86. Settling into the 4.5-6 minute gamut suits them well; it allows the band to explore their indie-prog lyrical predilections but still entertain their listeners with three or four well-placed choruses and a standard song structure. Well, standard for Wolf Parade. The structures make sense to them kind of like Frank Gehry's architecture seemed logical to him.

And thus, the spectacular part of Expo 86. With barely a bass drum beat to begin, Wolf Parade launch into "Cloud Shadow on the Mountain," one of the album's highlights. In surreal verses, the singer talks of being a "web," a "pair of boat shoes," and a "gazelle," but warns, "everybody gotta be reborn, but you will never be born as a scorpion." I suppose that's something that we're all just going to have to accept. Nevertheless, the song revolves between punk-influenced mania, guitar solos, and quietly tense moments of anticipation. It is a formula (of sorts) that is resurrected on the danceable "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)" and the anthemic "Pobody's Nerfect," where Wolf Parade sound like they themselves are "built...on cocaine lasers" as they try to convince a lady called Anastasia to "stop it."

The most "normal" song on the album is "Ghost Pressure," and it also provides Wolf Parade a road map to achieving an album that is not only critically-acclaimed but well-loved by music connoisseurs everywhere. If they focused their energy to create a collection of tracks like this, nothing could stop them. A relentless beat and a synth melody (not unlike Lady GaGa if she were depressed) barrage the listener with beauty before breaking down into unsettling rattles and Nintendo beeps behind one of the catchiest hooks of the year: "little vision, come shake me up, shake me up."

To every yang there is a yin, however, and the downside to Wolf Parade's unique approach to indie rock is that sometimes it just doesn't work. "Cave-o-sapien" is The Arctic Monkeys without whatever makes them Arctic: it's merely monkeychatter. Modern rock guitar leanings certainly don't help the circular structure of "Two Men in New Tuxedos," which begins and ends with its chorus, but rambles uselessly in between. "Yulia," an ode to lovers separated (one is in Poshekhonye, or Пошехо́нье, a Russian town), is simply too boring in its 4-minute approach to the lovesong. And lastly, "Little Golden Age" would benefit greatly from being cut to 3-minutes in the interest of brevity. Each tasty stanza of music is followed by a bland reiteration of the same stanza, but lyric-less, and it ruins the song.

"I stick my arms into webs/ I take my meals with weirdos/ And play with my rocket ships," Wolf Parade pronounce on "In the Direction of the Moon," the lyrical highlight of Expo 86. I would honestly not be surprised if this were the case. The band is surreal in their execution and intriguing in their idiosyncrasies. Each member is obviously extremely talented, and their potential is enormous. If they would only be consistent, they could be among the top tier of bands making music today.

1. Cloud Shadow on the Mountain
2. Palm Road
3. What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)
4. Little Golden Age
5. In the Direction of the Moon
6. Ghost Pressure
7. Pobody’s Nerfect
8. Two Men in New Tuxedos
9. Oh You, Old Thing
10. Yulia
11. Cave-o-Sapien

Wolf Parade is an indie rock band from Victoria, British Columbia, based in Montreal, QC, and currently on indefinite hiatus. Wolf Parade was formed when Spencer Krug (also Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, Moonface and Swan Lake) was offered a gig supporting Arcade Fire. He called Dan Boeckner (formerly of notable B.C. band Atlas Strategic, now also part of Handsome Furs) and they wrote songs with a drum machine before calling Arlen Thompson to play drums. Hadji Bakara joined in 2004. ... read more

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