Written by Jeremy Ryan
I have always had a very difficult time reviewing releases by bands like Wolf Parade. On one hand, it is difficult to know just how much biographical information it is necessary to write about the band, all the while trying not to lose focus of the material that I am supposed to be assessing. For example, with this band in particular, I could simply discuss Handsome Furs, Dan Boeckner’s side project, and before I know it, I would be elaborating about Spencer Krug’s “classical” music project Fifths of Seven. From this point, I would likely leap to discussing Krug’s involvement in Carey Mercer’s “Frog Eyes” band. It’s a damn slippery slope, but I think that I am going to do my best to focus on what matters here, that being the content of At Mount Zoomer.
After 2005’s absolutely fantastic Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade certainly set the bar quite high. Personally, the album became a staple in my listening library, thus, I was initially almost scared to give At Mount Zoomer a listen. I would compare this phenomenon to the situation I found myself in when Interpol’s Antics was released; hell, maybe the trauma of not getting to hear something as sublime as Turn on the Bright Lights still haunts me? Luckily, even though At Mount Zoomer doesn’t quite reach the soaring highs of Apologies to the Queen Mary, it is still an exceptional and somewhat haunting record.
The album begins with “Soldiers Grin,” a track that pretty much subscribes to the Wolf Parade blueprint of a superb song. Keyboards circle about throughout the track and there is an instantly catchy guitar riff. However, by the second track, at least in my opinion, it seems clear that the album is kind of divided between Krug-tracks—you know, kind of off kilter tempos, tunes driven by a keyboard, and really random lyrical content—and Boeckner pop songs. Not that this is a bad thing, but the juxtaposition between Krug and Broeckner tracks is remarkably apparent, which makes for a somewhat unique listening experience.
Long story short, some songs sound way more like Sunset Rubdown tracks, and some songs sound a lot more like Handsome Furs tracks. Though not entirely a bad thing, I would certainly contend that it makes for a somewhat uneven listening experience. Boeckner’s tunes are certainly more poppy and straightforward, while Krug’s songs seem to drift towards a more abstract locale. Nonetheless, track three, “Language City,” seems to find a middle ground between both songwriters midway through the tune, and it rapidly becomes apparent that this is the setting in which Wolf Parade succeeds to the highest degree.
“California Dreamer” is an example of how great Wolf Parade can sound when their songs truly succeed. Somewhat danceable (and damn sure foot tap-able), the track interestingly weaves in some very impressive synth lines, all the while Wolf Parade’s solid rhythm section anchoring the journey. Angular guitar riffs effortlessly intertwine themselves into the song, successfully conveying the album’s first truly collaborative, and possible most successful, efforts. The track that follows, “Fine Young Cannibals,” is also a gem; the rhythm section carries the track, ala Spoon, but Wolf Parade undeniably make the song their own, with Boeckner and Krug meeting again for a creative middle ground.
Album closer, “Kissing the Beehive,” (which was initially supposed to be the name of the album) is undeniably fantastic. If you would have told me that Wolf Parade would have pulled off a ten minute plus track so spectacularly well, I probably wouldn’t have believed you, but the proof is in the pudding. The track moves runs the gamut of what Wolf Parade does best, but obviously stretches out, blossoming into what is one of the best tracks of 2008, thus far. Much like the Sunset Rubdown track “I Am Dreaming of Places Where Lovers Have Wings,” the track starts somewhat insignificantly, only to reach a summit that I pray Wolf Parade can run with on their next release. When everything comes together, the listener is left thinking Wow!, and it is a remarkable album close.
At Mount Zoomer is a fantastic record, and one gets the feeling that it is something of a stepping stone for Wolf Parade. I can’t help but wonder which direction the band will go next… but At Mount Zoomer is a snapshot of a band arriving at a decisive fork in the road. Krug and Boeckner seem to thrive in their creative middleground, a middle that, as usual, involves snakes, sleeping and cities. At Mount Zooomer is a solid record, though it doesn’t have the pressing you need to hear this urgency of Apologies to the Queen Mary. Don’t expect something as encouraging as their first record, but ignoring this album would be doing yourself a substantial disservice.
This review was originally published June 27, 2008 on the old version of FensePost.
Sub Pop [CD, 2008]
1. Soldier’s Grin
2. Call It A Ritual
3. Language City
4. Bang Your Drum
5. California Dreamer
6. The Grey Estates
7. Fine Young Cannibals
8. An Animal In Your Care
9. Kissing The Beehive