Friday, June 6, 2008

Wolf Parade / "At Mount Zoomer"

On April 9th, as Wolf Parade's sophomore album "At Mount Zoomer" neared completion, label Sub Pop stated the album "might be this generation's 'Marquee Moon'", referencing Television's legendary 1977 debut. After this rush of Wolf Parade's own debut, 2005's "Apologies to the Queen Mary", it almost seemed possible. The string of songs from "Shine a Light" to "I Believe in Anything" is as compelling a series of tracks as anything released this decade. However, because it was an album of mammoth peaks with low plateaus dividing them, it did leave room for improvement. With "At Mount Zoomer", Wolf Parade has found a solution to the inconsistencies, but the none of the songs on the record reach the zenith of the best tracks from "Apologies". Needless to say, it's a good album, but "Marquee Moon" it is not.

"Soldier's Grin" opens the record with energy and plenty of guitar. Like Wolf Parade's previous work, the lyrics are seemingly direct, but abstract enough to leave plenty of room for interpretation. "What you know can only mean one thing," sings Krug in the song's refrain, "rooted to the place you spring from." As the song concludes, early-highlight "Call it a Ritual" marches in, lead by heavy drums and flourishes of guitar. The song appears to be an esoteric anti-war song, possibly about the Iraq, as it begins "into the dessert you will go" before stating "they will swing swing their swords for show while you turn your flower petals so slow." The songs remain solid as the album moves to "Language City" which is more upbeat and poppy than either of the two songs preceding it. The song builds to the kind of crescendo seen on the best "Apologies" tracks as Krug repeats "we are not at home!" before ending with a crash.

"Bang Your Drum" is yet another highlight, as Krug sounds as enthused as ever inviting the listener to "follow me, oh follow me" and "take a dive" as the song glides along gently. It builds slightly and gradually as Krug asks "will you burn your bridges down?" Along with Wolf Parade co-leader Dan Boeckner, Krug forms a nice vocal harmony of la la la's before asking "how can you turn away?" as the song comes to a close. "California Dreamer" sound less like the Beach Boys and more like the theme to a 1970's detective drama, with a subdued mysterious drum, guitar, and synthesizer beat before exploding with the first refrain of "and I think I might have heard it on the radio, but the radio waves were like snow." The song maintains this momentum all the way through the song's 6-minute run time, including the album's first guitar solo.

After the good but not great "The Grey Estates", a staccato guitar line opens "Fine Young Cannibals" (not to be mistaken for the douchebags who recorded "She Drives Me Crazy"). As another guitar enters and exits in spurts before taking over for a solo, the Television comparisons seem much more fitting. The penultimate track, "An Animal in Your Care", is a warped romantic ballad. "Time after time, you will forgive me, like an animal in your care," opens Krug before continuing, "you will outlive me and take the bow back you put in my hair." The lyrics are the strongest on the album, as Krug tells his love "when I die... [you can] sing the songs your lover taught you, when you were too young to know that this was what they were for." The song segues into the 10-minute-plus finale "Kissing the Beehive". If "Fine Young Cannibals" was reminiscent of Television, "Kissing the Beehive" is retrospective of the song "Marquee Moon" itself (in fact, the two songs are only one second apart in run time). If Wolf Parade seemed content on this album to hold back from letting loose as they did so often on "Apologies to the Queen Mary", "Kissing the Beehive" sees the band abandoning this tendency to sculpt a beauty of a closer.

"At Mount Zoomer" may not be quite at the level of the group's debut, but that doesn't make it any less impressive of an album. The group has successfully avoided the 'sophomore slump' while crafting an album without a single lesser track. Besides, this just means I can still await the group releasing the near-flawless masterpiece I know they have in them. In the mean time, this album is good enough to last the wait.

Rating: 8.4

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