What has always differentiated Wolf Parade from their contemporaries is the presence of two equally talented singers and songwriters providing a yin and yang interplay on the albums and in concert. Wolf Parade might just be Canada’s long awaited answer to the Beatles, with Spencer Krug’s John Lennon like psychedelic abstraction providing the perfect counterpoint to Dan Boeckner’s more straightforward Paul McCartney. Though, a more fitting comparison might be a strange but delicious rock and roll fantasy in which a young and arty David Bowie joins forces with a young and hungry Bruce Springsteen, offering up equal treats for the left and right brain. On Expo 86 (Sub Pop), Wolf Parade take the next step by blurring that dividing line between the two sides and often erasing it completely.
You could say that Expo 86 is the first real Wolf Parade album. A year off to work on other projects and solidify the lineup has done wonders for the band’s overall sound. What once may have sounded like two different bands trying to play nice, now sounds like a singular voice. There may not be any sharing of vocals a la At Mount Zoomer’s “Kissing the Beehive,” but the songs sound more like group efforts than they have in the past. Perhaps finally putting an end to unnecessary Twilight-esque message board bickering about whose are better, no longer do the songs sound like Krug songs or Boeckner songs, but just Wolf Parade songs. With the added benefits of now permanent member Dante DeCaro taking part in and filling out the songwriting and drummer Arlen Thompson as consistent as ever, the eleven tracks on Expo 86 are as close to cohesion as the band has been able to achieve thus far. The singers may change from song to song, but the sound remains the same.
Wasting no time, Expo 86 starts quick, with Spencer Krug asleep in a hammock. “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain,” the album’s abrupt opener, immediately demands attention. It’s the perfect harbinger of things to come, and it’s a pretty safe bet that you won’t stop paying attention until the album is over. If Krug/Boeckner is the new Lennon/McCartney, Thompson is John Bonham reincarnate, as the band channels Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” behind Krug’s lucid tale of webs, mini-vans, boat shoes, and scorpions before a huge sing-along ending.
Like the best Wolf Parade tracks, almost every single cut on Expo 86 builds to a huge explosive ending. You can practically see the fists pumping, and will be hard pressed to not do so as well. Thompson is a beast on the kit throughout the entire album, providing the motor to the boat and crashing through cymbals and waves among repeated allusions by both Krug and Boeckner to the sea, dreams, islands, beaches, the end of the world, ghosts, and radio songs. In a perfect world, these would be the radio songs blasted in the car or sung loud to in the bedroom all night and day by the heroine in “Little Golden Age.”
Both Boeckner and Krug are at the top of their game on Expo 86. There’s plenty for both Team Spencer (“What Did My Lover Say,” “In the Direction of the Moon”) and Team Dan (“Ghost Pressure,” “Yulia”) to love and argue about. It’s really quite a phenomenal record. I especially love the Boeckner led “Pobody’s Nerfect,” possibly titled after an obscure Simpsons’ reference, and “Caveosapien,” the best Krug vehicle since the first album’s “I’ll Believe in Anything.” On “Pobody’s Nerfect,” Boeckner rocks out a la the first album finale “This Heart’s on Fire,” building cities with “cocaine lazers” and sparking sing-a-longs to the catchy chorus. Throw in a kick-ass guitar solo, and this one becomes a real barn burner. It’s not often that you get a classic, straight up, and featured guitar solo from Wolf Parade, but the addition of DeCaro to the permanent fray should change that. In a prime example of one hand rubbing off on the other, “Caveosapien,” is this album’s spectacular finale which finds Krug letting loose his inner Boeckner. There’s a killer gorilla, fires, and the catchiest hook the band has ever unleashed on us. It’s massive and will no doubt become a live favorite. After all, that’s when Wolf Parade really shines anyways.
After their debut album Apologies to the Queen Mary came out of nowhere in 2005 to hijack my stereo for a solid year plus, it was seeing their electric and eclectic live show that sealed the deal for me. An obsession worthy debut album would have been enough, but live they were even better. Expo 86 finally captures the essence and excitement of live Wolf Parade. It’s more immediate than its predecessors, encapsulating the best elements from the prior two records and speeding forward into something that sounds fresh, important, and now distinctly Wolf Parade. Where At Mount Zoomer’s proggy, experimental adventures were perfect for headphone exploration, Expo 86 sounds like it was tailor made for a loud, sweaty dance-floor. Lucky for them, Wolf Parade finally sound comfortable in their own shoes. Lucky for me, hopefully that means I can finally take comfort in the fact that they’ll be around for awhile.