It’s easy to forget the impact Wolf Parade had on Generation X’ers and, to an extent, Millennials. Whereas Nirvana represented our teenage angst in the ’90s, the Montreal-via-Victoria, British Columbia band revealed the concerns and uncertainties of people as the world in the mid-2000s was rapidly changing. At home, in the office, in the classrooms, technology was taking over while a wave of conservatism was sweeping across the world following the events of 9-11. Apologies to the Queen Mary remains one of the most outstanding debuts of this century. Songs like “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son”, “Modern World”, “Grounds for Divorce”, and “I’ll Believe in Anything” perfectly encapsulated the seismic ships of the day.
2008’s At Mt. Zoomer and 2010’s Expo ’86 were mammoth, prog-instilled epics. From the anthemic “Language City” to the raucous “Kissing the Beehive” to the exhilarating “Palm Road” to the distorted reality of “Two Men in Tuxedos”, Wolf Parade were at the top of the craft. They were Canada’s answer to The Killers and Arctic Monkeys. Then suddenly, it call came to a halt, as the quartet announced they were taking a hiatus. One year turned to two and it wasn’t until 2016 when the band announced they were returning.
Just like when they arrived in 2005, the political and musical landscapes have significantly changed. Wolf Parade, however, have not. Their fourth EP, aptly titled EP4, was a welcome re-introduction to the band’s rapturous and sometimes chaotic soundscapes. It was just the appetizer of what is to come, and the full, eleven-course meal arrives in the form of Cry Cry Cry, Wolf Parade’s fourth full-length LP. For long-time fans, the album is a reminder of the quartet’s sonic and intellectual power. For newcomers, the album will be an education on how guitar-driven indie rock can be exhilarating and moving.
This isn’t to say that Spencer Krug, Dan Boeckner, Dante DeCaro, and Arlen Thompson have remained stagnant despite being apart for nearly six years. For starters, Cry Cry Cry is the band’s tightest and most coherent output. is also their most politically charged, as the events of 2016 (the U.S. election, Brexit) weigh heavily on each song. Even when a song like “Who Are Ya” – which sounds like a prog-infused, piano-dirven, Billy Joel number – arrives in the middle of this anthemic album, there is no interruption in the record’s flow due to its political leaning. The whimsical ’80s vibe is also clever, as Krug looks in the past to reflect on the current, maddening state of affairs. It then segues masterfully into the dazzling, Bowie-esque “Am I an Alien Here”. Krug wonders aloud what has happened and whether the events are real or fiction.
“And somewhere in the world an evil genius is on the rise
And then Bowie died and everybody said what can I do?
Am I an alien here?
Here in the cave of my skull,
Crawling around in the dark?”
Bowie isn’t the only icon to which Wolf Parade dedicate a song. The late great Montreal poet and singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen is the focus of the smooth and addictive “Valley Boy”. The pop arrangements, soaring chorus, and more streamline story offer a break from the album’s darker themes. It is the one song where one can let her/himself go. A dancefloor also permeates across the euphoric “You’re Dreaming”. Boeckner unleashes his disco-rock tendencies, which have been formed during his time with Handsome Furs, Divine Fits, and his latest side project Operators. Despite the upbeat bite, Boeckner sings about escaping today’s world and dreaming what a life unchained would be like.
“I’ve never seen more shattered glass.
Every system in collapse.
A billion screens moving so fast,
But that’s not life.
Much of the album, however, builds upon Cry Cry Cry‘s foreboding opener, “Lazarus Online”. Its message rings of Apologies to the Queen Mary, but this time technology has become the vehicle where fear and evil are bred. Where a “nihilist season” and “falling cathedrals” are characteristics of the world we live in. Overcoming the darkness and fear are also the central themes of “Incantation”, the proggiest of the prog-driven songs on the LP. Boeckner’s songwriting also reaches new, politically poetic levels.
“The king he swears all is not lost,
But you know these pigs they love the trough
And the coins hit the floor.
We were free, but we’re still poor.
We carry on like we were sleeping.”
Then there are moments where the old Wolf Parade is unveiled, and that occurs with back-to-back epics found in the heart of the album. It begins with the driving and mesmerizing “Baby Blue”, which would sound tremendous live with a backing horn section. The song in many ways could be the story about the band and their return, or possibly a love ballad to their adopted city. Meanwhile on “Weaponized”, the quartet gradually reel us in with an oft-kilter, groovy vibe. Nothing, however, stays restrained when it comes Wolf Parade’s material, and “Weaponized” grows into a loud and menacing rocker. It’s a love story set in a post-apocalyptic world or possibly during the time that occurred between Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049.
The album comes to a close with the brilliant “King of Piss and Paper”. It’s the LP’s most political song and also its most majestic number. The song reaches breathtaking heights at times despite Krug expressing his disgust at what has happened. The imagery in his lyrics are among some of his finest work.
I am a stranger to religion’s fear.
I have no claim to the tears of the queer,
But I know it keeps the blind man’s white cane near.
The blind man keeps the white cane near.
And now the king is made of paper,
And the king is made of piss.
The king is coming down the fucking wall.
Seven years may have separated Wolf Parade’s last two albums; however, they have not missed a beat. The chemistry that existed on Apologies to the Queen Mary, At Mount Zoomer, and Expo ’86 is rekindled. The band, though, reach a whole new level of excellence on Cry Cry Cry, from their songwriting to the sonic landscapes they have crafted. Some of it is familiar, some of it is new, and in the totality of it all Cry Cry Cry is a triumph. It is not merely a remarkable comeback, but an album that ensures Wolf Parade’s relevance and legacy extend for another decade and more.
Wolf Parade are Spencer Krug (vocals/keys/synth), Dan Boeckner (vocals/guitar/keys), Dante DeCaro (bass), and Arlen Thompson (drums/production). They are on tour now. Dates and information are available here.
Featured image by Shane McCauley.
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