Douglas Martin and Wolf Parade go back farther than John Legend’s hairline.
The practice of casting Wolf Parade’s two frontmen as “dueling songwriters” has always been a lazy writer cop-out, particularly considering how well each fills out the other’s songs. On their classic debut Apologies to the Queen Mary, it’s hard to imagine Dan Boeckner’s driving “Shine a Light” without Spencer Krug’s laser-beam synths cutting its way into everything, or the ominous, acoustic guitar-led “Modern World” without Krug’s haunted house piano lines throughout and feral howling during the coda. As interesting as the competitive angle would be, Wolf Parade’s best work has primarily been the sum of four extraordinary parts.
After a record from Boeckner’s Handsome Furs and two from Krug’s Sunset Rubdown (not to mention the release from quasi-supergroup Swan Lake, which features Krug, Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer, and Dan Bejar of both Destroyer and The New Pornographers), the pair reconvened with drummer Arlen Thompson, “sound manipulator” Hadji Bakara, and Dante DeCaro– a skilled guitarist who joined the band presumably to save himself the embarrassment of having to tell his children he was a member of Hot Hot Heat– to record sophomore effort At Mount Zoomer. Not nearly as immediate (or, well, as good) as its predecessor, Zoomer only slightly revealed its adroitness after multiple listens, with its highlights being an eleven-minute prog-rocker delivered in three movements and possibly the only positive creative work the band Fine Young Cannibals has ever had its name attached to.
All things considered, there seemed to be an air of obligation seeping through the vinyl grooves, with Boeckner and Krug making like Jon and Kate Gosselin right before the divorce: simulating togetherness and chemistry with a fork in the road being obscured by the bright stage lights. While Boeckner was traveling the world over with his considerably hot wife, Krug was saving all of his best songs for Sunset Rubdown. If we’re still beholden to the competition angle, that’s a battle Boeckner definitely won.
“I was asleep on a hammock” are the first words Krug spouts on Expo ‘86, right before describing a fever dream about being a dream catcher living on the window of a minivan, lyrical meanings tangling themselves while Thompson’s drums recklessly haul ass down the road. During the pre-release blitz, both Krug and Boeckner have suggested that the songs are more locked-in and focused due to the band recording most of the album’s parts with live takes. This is readily apparent on songs like the galvanic “Palm Road” and the danceable “Ghost Pressure” and “Oh You, Old Thing”, both of which bafflingly and awesomely defeat The Killers at their own game without having to spend most of their advance money at Sephora. Album closer “Cave-O-Sapien” snugly fits into the cannon of Wolf Parade’s greatest songs, with the band firing on all cylinders and Krug “kicking through the roses in the yard” with his trademark yelp.
Boeckner’s tunes on the record are naturally reliable, with his charming rock-dude swagger buoying songs like “Pobody‘s Nerfect“ and anthemic penultimate track “Yulia.“ “We are two men in new tuxedos, and we are ready to jump from behind the wall”, Krug sings in the second-half of the record, seemingly taking on the notion of fame underneath the bouncy shuffle of the drums and simple instrumental melody. This is a theme that comes up in tiny slivers from Krug’s pen, most notably on “What Did My Lover Say?”, where Krug intones, “I got a friend who’s a genius/Nobody listens to him”. Even more clever is the line after: “I got some friends who are famous”, with Krug finishing with a round of “la la la’s” which suggests those famous friends have nothing interesting to say, but everyone will probably listen to them anyway.
Maybe it’s fairly apt that Expo ‘86 puts Wolf Parade within two degrees of separation of slightly-overrated mainstream-indie starlet Zooey Deschanel (that’s one you’re going to have to figure out on your own), because the intense focus of all the parts played and lyrical themes imply that Wolf Parade havetheir sights on bigger things than ever before, with a sense of unity that was always recognized but never fully fleshed out.