Wolf Parade is responsible for 3 of the best songs of 2005. In no particular order, they are “Shine A Light,” “This Heart’s On Fire,” and “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts.” It’s with that good ol’ 20/20 hindsight that I see this and, in the three intervening years, I’ve had plenty of time to build up my expectations for the follow-up to the album upon which those songs appeared, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Sure, I could’ve gotten lost in the glut of side projects that Wolf Parade vocalists Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug have between them, but why bother? I wanted the old Wolf Parade magic again, the real stuff, accept no substitutes, etc.
So now I guess I’ve got it. Wolf Parade released At Mount Zoomer in June, having only recently retitled it from Kissing the Beehive, which is the album’s closing track. After three years, Wolf Parade has graced us with… um… nine tracks. Yes, one of them is nearly 11 minutes long, but Great George Carlin’s ghost! Albums are fucking pricey these days (you can get like 2 gallons of gas for the cost of an album nowadays) and kids who are socking away the money they earn from selling their Ritalyn prescription to classmates might be tempted to invest elsewhere when confronted with a 9-track album. Nine Inch Nails just gave fans 10 songs for free, for example. Free albums definitely help you manage expectations.
If I sound disappointed by At Mount Zoomer, it’s because, initially, I was. Apologies to the Queen Mary was produced by Modest Mouse mastermind (mastermouse?) Isaac Brock and it smacked of his warped pop sensibilities. Initially, At Mount Zoomer is a lot less accessible than it’s predecessor. It’s not without it’s charms – far from it, in fact. Each listen yields new rewards. Wolf Parade, obstinate Canucks that they are, have tried to craft an album in an age of singles. There are individually outstanding tracks on At Mount Zoomer, but the full effect of the album is not felt unless you play the sucker through from start to finish. I didn’t have any favorites until about my fourth time through it (for the record, they are “Language City”, “California Dreamer,” and “Fine Young Cannibals”) It’s not a concept album, but it does have a dreamy, poppy vibe that is best experienced by listening to each of the 9 tracks in the order they are provided. At Mount Zoomer is a thumb in the eye of our national attention span and I, for one, am grateful. If this album scares fratty kids away from their show in a couple of weeks, so much the better (although it must be said that in LA, fratty/sorority type kids find their way into every show – three such tramp-stamped sorority sisters nearly ruined an Ani DiFranco show for my girlfriend and I earlier this year).
The attempt to make an essentially single-less album did not, thankfully, prevent Wolf Parade from employing their various melodic gifts. “California Dreamer,” one of the highlights of the album, is melody-rich, psychedelic trip with twangy, 60’s style guitar and sinister synthesizers in the background. And, it features a guitar solo straight out of the Marc Ribot playbook (dude’s ears must be burning – I’ve mentioned him in two straight reviews, but if you know his work and you listen to “California Dreamer,” and the entire new Old Haunts record, you’ll agree with me. Or you’re an idiot).
At Mount Zoomer is, like Apologies to the Queen Mary, a record unstuck in time: it’s entirely new but it incorporates conventions from various decades in music history. At Mount Zoomer manages to blend the 60’s pop and surf sounds with 80’s synthpop in a way that is entirely more pleasing than the combination might initially sound (seriously – if I told you my band sounded like Jan and Dean, The Cars, and a dash of Bowie, you’d puke, right? You just did!). The guitar work on At Mount Zoomer that is not “Ribot-esque” is either Talking Heads or the Cars, depending on the track. The fact that there is a track called “Fine Young Cannibals,” on the album does little to refute my claim that At Mount Zoomer is a blender for pop decades – the song has the aforementioned Cars-style riffs but it is not, as far as I can tell, about the one-hit wonder band from the 1980’s who brought us the gem, “She Drives Me Crazy.” (Note: “She Drives Me Crazy” is not really a gem)
At the risk of contradicting myself (which, I know, human beings never do), the fact that four of the nine tracks on At Mount Zoomer pass the five minute mark helps balance out the fact that there are only 9 songs on the record. More songs of such length would make the album unwieldy and the nine represented here do fit together pretty seamlessly, from “Soldier’s Grin,” right on through “Kissing the Beehive.” I complain more about artists who record every fucking idea they have (are you reading this, Ryan Adams?) than artists who give me a short, sweet set of near-perfection. Okkervil River, Band of Horses, TV On The Radio, and My Morning Jacket have all released albums of the ten-songs-or less variety and they’ve all been superb.
At Mount Zoomer will probably not win too many new fans to Wolf Parade’s side, but it’s a satisfying follow-up to a fantastic debut and, having scoped out some of their live stuff on the merry ol’ internet, I’m definitely looking forward to these songs live in a tiny little space that is entirely free of fratdicks.