Indie Rock Genealogy: Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Handsome Furs
One of the great advantages of signing with an independent label (hence being an indie band) is that collaboration appears more encouraged, and freedom more oft divvied out. We see excellent efforts in "solo" projects from band members of Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear (Panda Bear, Department of Eagles, respectively) and The New Pornographers (Neko Case, who never leaves the band completely) because these musicians are encouraged to take advantage of the opportunities to create. It's more like an open salon than a label culture, providing we lucky listeners with eclectic sounds and wild groupings, and with art that is altogether intentionally inaccessible. Since this line of thought may well devolve into just an argument for the virtues of independent record labels, I'll digress, but the point is that indie bands can do a lot creatively, without booking stadiums or grabbing insanely expensive studio time. Instead, we get cross-collaborations and off-shoots. And recently, I've been re-discovering/re-falling in love with Wolf Parade, and the impetus for my born-again passion was Sunset Rubdown. And Handsome Furs.
All three bands are linked into a tightly-knit Canadian indie rock tapestry. Wolf Parade, the most well-known pairs Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner (with Arlen Thompson, Hadji Bakara and Dante DeCaro) and is responsible for two of greatest indie rock love songs of the last decade ("I'll Believe in Anything" and "You Are a Runner and I Am My Father's Son" from Apologies to Queen Mary). The mixing vocals, between Krug's meaty, graveled wail and Boeckner's slightly more melodic tones and the airy, but still weighty walls of sound that pour out on every track they've composed as a band is staggering. I remember the first time I heard Apologies to Queen Mary, being both enamored and confused, it was something that I loved, but I couldn't be sure why. It was love at first listen. The album is incredibly passionate, powerful throughout. It doesn't give you a break, and you don't want one. It's like making love when you first fall in love. It can't happen too often, and the closeness is nearly an addiction. Wolf Parade's second At Mount Zoomer is more syncopated, less breathless, but more adventurous; expanding greatly on the foundation built with the first album, but holding onto the same sentiments of love, passion and the ways we isolate ourselves for fun and out of loneliness. "Soldier's Grin" is one of those openers that feels almost separated from time and place. The point here, is that Wolf Parade is amazing. The sum of two great vocalists/songwriters efforts. And Wolf Parade has led to a wide array of offspring.
Five bands are directly linked to Krug and Boeckner, including Frog Eyes, Swan Lake, Atlas Strategic, and the two listed in this post's title: Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs. I'm hard pressed to count another band that gave birth to so many side projects. (And please, if you think of some, comment on this. I'm sincerely interested. Expand my mind.) Sunset Rubdown is Krug's side project of note. Two stellar albums recently Random Spirit Lover and Dragonslayer have propelled them up through the indie ranks. And Dragonslayer has some incredible, sincere, dire and rocking tracks, including but by no means limited to "Silver Moons" which asserts, "I believe in growing old with grace/I believe she only loved my face/I believe I acted like a child/Making faces at acquired tastes/And now silver moons belong to you..." Just amazing lyrics. Boeckner's Handsome Furs are equally exceptional, if markedly different (Krug's voice is possible a major factor). They're most recent Face Control is loaded with loving harmonies and great tracks, "Legal Tender," and "Evangeline" especially. And "Thy Will Be Done."
So, with so much great, eclectic, individual and successfully collaborative work coming from Krug and Boeckner, I feel compelled to make that dreaded, but fucking apt Lennon/McCartney comparison. Both have clearly defined writing styles, Wolf Parade songs can be separated fairly easily just by hearing them into either the Krug or the Boeckner column, and their "solo" work carries that style on unabated. But, it's not fair to make the comparison. Lennon and McCartney did most of their greatest work together (granted the White Album was essentially individual) and when they finally broke up, they're music wasn't the same. Lennon wrote more great post-Beatles stuff than McCartney (though "Maybe I'm Amazing is fucking incredible to this day), but John was never quite the same after the Beatles. He grew up, and that changed his songwriting motivations. Same for Paul. They were best as the Beatles, and while I'd happily argue that Wolf Parade is better than just the sum of its parts, both Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs exceed expectations in providing a uniquely familiar experience; a more personal sit-down with Krug or Boeckner, respectively. And maybe that's because they're still young enough. They have the sentiments lingering. Or, maybe it's as simple as they aren't so greatly overshadowed. Wolf Parade is not the Beatles, simply, they aren't a movement or institution, they're a simply an incredible band. Maybe, still, it's a Canada thing (a litany of excellent bands are from Canada). Whatever it is, though, all three bands are worth hearing, and I will be checking out the other members of this rock lineage soon with expectations for new angles on established excellence.
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