For equitable purposes, it’s probably best to mentally separate Wolf Parade from their debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Not because it’s too good and they’ll never top it, and not because it’s bad: simply because Wolf Parade is quite a different band in 2008 than they were in 2005.

In the three years between albums, the band’s main songwriters, Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, worked on side projects: Swan Lake and Sunset Rubdown for Krug, and Handsome Furs for Boeckner. Add to this the band’s removal of the power of Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock at the helm of production, and you’ve got a band eager to make its own name in its own right, well beyond their debut.

Aesthetically, At Mount Zoomer is more refined, though not as immediately grabbing, as the band vowed, “no singles.” Still, in their time with their other projects, it’s clear that their songwriting skills continued to develop and evolve, and they bring with them the quality of experience. The melodies are more alluring, the sound is cleaner, and overall presents itself as more professional. At Mount Zoomer is considerably more upbeat, due in large part to Wolf Parade’s more frequent use of piano instead of heavily processed synths, though the synths are certainly still there.

There’s discernible difference between the two songwriting forces, but when compared to the alternative (two songwriters without distinct personality), this shouldn’t be considered a negative. Ultimately, their themes are compatible and they’re using the same musicians, so there aren’t enough variables to result in choppy pacing.

Wolf Parade, “Language City” (download)

The most identifiable aspect of At Mount Zoomer is the similar topic matter. Though they’ve made some changes in style and sound, the driving themes behind Wolf Parade’s work remains the same – frustrations with modern living, cities, technologies, attitudes, ignorance, the desire to run away and start anew. What makes them different is that most artists use the appeal of a new place as motivation, where Wolf Parade sings about the desolation of the current environment. “This place here is no friend of mine,” they declare in “Soldier’s Grin,” “what is passed, we’ll just leave it behind.” But some metaphors may be obtuse enough to deceive the mind. “Language City” seems to be outright about the grim aspect of urban decay and renewal (“All this work / just to tear it down”) but in an interview, Boeckner claimed it is about a coke party.

But they don’t just apply this uneasiness to city life – it has its national and international implications, as well. “Call it a Ritual” could easily be translated to be about the war with Iraq, rife with metaphors of peace, violence, death and poor choices: “and you know / they will swing their swords for show / while you turn your flower petals so slow / you said the desert will eat us alive / I said I’ll make the decisions / you just drive.”

Wolf Parade, “Call it a Ritual” (download)

Perhaps it is this mutual fear of destruction and decay that brings Krug and Boeckner together – not just in the band, but in At Mount Zoomer‘s final track, “Kissing the Beehive,” which they wrote together and thus, naturally, sing as a duet. Lyrically, the two men form an army against some sort of authority figure (“the captain, oh, he is never denied… still we need nothing of his bitter hand”), while, aesthetically, they cater to the diversity of their assault, from raucous screaming, frantic paces, psychedelic meanderings, dance beats and a false ending.  At the end, when they’re pushed beyond words after being “estranged from the captain’s light,” comes the terrified relief of being fully accountable for one’s self – and the answer to Wolf Parade is a resounding, “Yes!”