Wolf Parade - Expo 86

All over the place in the best kind of way.

Wolf Parade wanted to call their second album ‘Kissing the Beehive’. It would have been an infinitely better choice than ‘At Mount Zoomer’ - if only it hadn’t already been taken. Cue the possibility of a Big Scary Lawsuit. The Canadian group didn’t want any Legal Stuff to deal with, so they changed the name, instead opting to reference where they recorded said second album, at drummer Arlen Thompson’s studio.

The sophomore record marked a clear shift away from the hyperactive indie-rock that made up most of their 2005 debut ‘Apologies to the Queen Mary’, towards something that was altogether more prog-rock. Unpredictable song structures, squiggly keyboards, eleven-minute closing track (‘Kissing the Beehive’ itself), and of course, some mental album artwork. It bore all the hallmarks of excess, but, aside from the disappointing production, it actually worked really well.

That album was pretty much an even split between the band’s songwriters, Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug (i.e. four Spencer, four Dan, one collaboration - the closer). It’s become something of a tradition for the two to share space on Wolf Parade records, something that is continued with ‘Expo 86’.

It seems there’s been a nice two-year gap between the second and third albums, but really it’s been a lot shorter than that. The duo’s ‘other bands’, Handsome Furs and Sunset Rubdown respectively, both put records out last year. That turnaround suddenly seems a lot quicker, right?

Wolf Parade have gotten a grasp on their prog-rock tendencies this time around, sterring things more into prog-pop territory than anything else. ‘Expo 86’ is brimming with more exuberance than ‘Zoomer’ ever did. The production’s tighter, the musicianship more impressive, the song structures labyrinthine in nature. They sound rejuvenated - even though the second album was far from underwhelming. It’s that good.

Krug opens the album with ‘Cloud Shadow On The Mountain’, one of the tracks chosen as a single; there have been four already. With its pounding drums and persistent, shapeshifting melodies, it begins proceedings in style. Next up is ‘Palm Road’, which manages to steal the drums from Arcade Fire’s ‘Power Out’, and make it work.

‘What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way)’ sounds a little like ‘Kissing the Beehive’ 2.0, no bad thing of course. It’s a great song in its own right too, featuring some great lyrics from Krug, like these: ‘I’ve got a sandcastle here, made out of fine black sand / Sometimes it turns into glass when shit gets hot’. Next, it’s Boeckner’s turn to knock it out of the park with ‘Little Golden Age’, a song that’s the perfect marriage of ‘Apologies” anthemics and their new-found unpredictability. This sets up a rather fine run, as ‘In The Direction Of The Moon’ and ‘Ghost Pressure’ turn up next. The latter’s driven by a rather Gary Numan-esque synth riff, and is a clear album highlight.

At nearly an hour long, ‘Expo 86’ might be seen as long-winded at first, but there are so many twists and turns contained within its eleven songs that things are kept interesting throughout. ‘Two Men In New Tuxedos’ is as quirky a song as the band have ever written, the sheer insistency of its anchor line, ‘Hey teacher! Love is never dead!’ making sure it gets into your head whether you like it or not.

Delayed guitars introduce ‘Oh You, Old Thing’, one of the album’s longest songs, but also one of its most immediate, boasting one of the strongest hooks on offer here. It’s matched in its immediacy by penultimate song ‘Yulia’, which makes way for closer ‘Cave-O-Sapien’, a mightily impressive piece of work, carried by an infectious riff. Its coda of ‘I’ve got you ‘til you’re gone’ finishes the record in style.

‘Expo 86’, then. It’s all over the place in the best kind of way, ambitious even for a band like Wolf Parade. It’s better than ‘At Mount Zoomer’, mainly because of the relatively little time it takes to click, and at its highest points it’s the equal of ‘Apologies to the Queen Mary’. The group’s consistency continues unhindered, and of course, that question comes up once more: where the hell do they go from here?

Tags: Wolf Parade, Reviews, Album Reviews

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