Friday, June 27, 2008

Wolf Parade - At Mount Zoomer

Wolf Parade's sophomore effort At Mount Zoomer (formerly Kissing the Beehive) surprisingly marked itself out as one of the most highly-anticipated albums to be released in 2008. Their 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, has not really lost any of its charm. Of course, some complicated things have happened since then. It appeared as if the twin songwriting forces of Dan Boecker and Spencer Krug were more interested in solo directions, or weirder collaborations. Boeckner played in the two-person band the Handsome Furs with his wife and released the somewhat boring but above-average Plague Park. Krug worked feverishly, it seems. Shut Up I am Dreaming, Krug's second band Sunset Rubdown's debut was released within a year of his first band's debut, in early 2006, Krug's third band (in which, to be fair, he plays a slightly smaller role) Swan Lake put out their debut shortly thereafter, in late-2006.

In 2007, Sunset Rubdown put out their second album, Random Spirit Lover, an album I will persist in loving and claiming is better than the Wolf Parade debut. I am surprised that nobody seems to know who Sunset Rubdown is despite this. Wolf Parade still remains the band in the limelight. But Krug is arguably, now, at his peak when working for his own band. Boeckner, may be (but I hope not) having a similar thing going on with Handsome Furs. All of this information taken together, At Mount Zoomer is a bit of a disappointment, but it is no slouch of an album either.

Let's see, for starters there are only nine songs, and kind of a weird running order--"Soldier's Grin" (Boeckner), "Call it a Ritual" (Krug), "Language City" (Boeckner), "Bang Your Drum" (Krug), "California Dreamer" (Krug), "The Grey Estates" (Boeckner), "Fine Young Cannibals" (Bockener), "An Animal in Your Care" (Krug), and finally, "Kissing the Beehive," (Boeckner + Krug). The album might have been improved by better sequencing, but it also would be better if the songs were more exciting.

I used to prefer Boeckner's voice to Krug's because it seemed as if he was channeling the tones of Kurt Cobain. Krug's voice was compared to Bowie, and I used to think it was weird and twittering, and while that may be so, few other artists can utilize these eccentricities to greater effect. Needless to say, my proclivities have been reversed. And I should not shy away from admitting that I am now obsessed with Spencer Krug. When I first moved to L.A., Random Spirit Lover came out and gave me something to be happy about in a sea of doubt. I saw them live, and while it was a weird night for me personally, I still recall the show very fondly, some nine months later.

This album, At Mount Zoomer, opens up with a weird keyboard part vaguely reminiscent of the first track on Random Spirit Lover (even though it is not a Krug song). The lyrics are not printed, but the album kicks off on a memorable line--"In my head, there's a city at night," and continues with, "And what you know can only mean one thing." There is perhaps some mystery and ambiguity to Boeckner's songs that Krug's may lack.

Second track, "Call it a Ritual" is especially meaningful for me personally in the way most of Krug's songs are--this time, it would only be better explained if my current zine in production wasn't being delayed due to personal problems. Krug is somehow able to read my mind constantly. His lyrics always strike me as true and authentic, but also melodramatic at times, which endears me greatly.

"Language City" is another quality Boeckner song after "Soldier's Grin" and is probably even a slight improvement, with the line "All this working, just to tear it down," dominating the song.

The best 1-2 punch of the album comes next with Krug's "Bang on a Drum" and "California Dreamer." The first song is arguably the best song on the album, and so is the second song. The first one is the closest to being a Sunset Rubdown song as is on this album, and it is affecting in the same way. "California Dreamer" is probably the only real Wolf Parade song on this Wolf Parade album. Weird to say, but it opens with the big drums on display on their debut album, but appearing nowhere else on this sophomore one. And you want to talk about Krug mind reading! When Sunset Rubdown played at the El Rey Theatre, he asked, "What area is this?" And I didn't know it then but that is what is referred to as the Miracle Mile. It is heartening to think that I saw Krug in his most recent L.A. appearance, and here he is writing a song about the very idea of making a "journey to Los Angeles" and asking "Why did you go?" Of course Krug is not writing a song to me, but it does feel that way.

"The Grey Estates" sounds vaguely like the Arcade Fire song "Antichrist Television Blues" (I am probably the only person that will make that comparison, as well as the next one) and "Fine Young Cannibals" sounds vaguely like the Spoon song "Lines in a Suit." They are both okay.

"An Animal in Your Care" has Krug almost plagiarizing himself. The closing melody of the song seems plucked from "The Taming of the Hands That Came Back to Life," one of the more epic, driving songs on Random Spirit Lover. It is not quite as good a song, but it is still probably the third best song on the album.

"Kissing the Beehive" is not as awful a song as it has been called. When Krug enters in the second verse, almost interrupting Boeckner, it is awesome. And also the way he pronounces "Jonathan" is awesome. It is an epic, prog-like, somewhat dirge-y closing track that is like ten or eleven minutes long or something.

I still don't know what any of this album is really about because of the lyrical ambiguity. In summation, here is my ranking of Krug/Boeckner albums from top to bottom:

1) Random Spirit Lover
2) Apologies to the Queen Mary
3) Shut Up I am Dreaming
4) At Mount Zoomer
5) Beast Moans
6) Plague Park

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