Wolf Parade - Expo 86
After the relative disappointment of At Mount Zoomer, Wolf Parade's new release Expo 86 arrived with a sort of day-before-Christmas kind of anticipation. The surprise of their new album is that it stretches the spectrum of their careers, rather than marching ceaselessly forward (don't worry, the drums still drive you aurally forward) or recessing to their garage-band beginnings on Apologies to the Queen Mary. Instead, it's an '80s-infused rock masterpiece, with a bit of synth here and there, and all the expected (demanded?) guitar heroics. Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner provide more disjointed vocals of impeccable lyrics, showing that the dry and low-key leanings of Zoomer were not the band's new direction, and also proving that among their litany of side projects, they still have a special place in their hearts for the original band. Of course, that's what the album title and artwork imply too. Expo 86 references the 1986 World's Fair (technically a mini-fair) held in the boys' home country of Canada, though specifically in Vancouver. There was a monorail there! If that's not confirmation enough of the album's desire to time-travel back a bit, I don't know what is.
The opening track "Cloud Shadow on the Mountain" speaks mostly to early Wolf Parade, a hooky, drum-driven, chanting-chorused welcome wagon that feels like some of Krug's most recent work with Sunset Rubdown. It's thick with a song-long build that takes the sparse beginning to a place lush with a cacophony of instruments and finishes with a fade-out guitar roar. "Palm Road" juxtaposes the opener with a more solemn, sweet song of travel and journey that's laden with hope, but also a heavy helping of doubt. The chorus, repeating the song's title with increasingly tired whelps, speaks the song's fears as much as the verse lyrics. And that's precisely the subtle touches that Wolf Parade seemed to be glossing just an album ago. "What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had to Go This Way)" has the strongest hook of the album, grabbing you from note one and ripping at your senses with its disjointed clatter. It also features the line "I've got a sandcastle heart/ made out of fine, black sand./ Sometimes it turns into glass when shit gets hot." It's possible that it is the best song on the album, but I hate to make such an assertion when the whole album is phenomenal. And because "Little Golden Age" is just as good, or better. See, if there was a problem with Expo 86 is that it's too great. Every corner turned is another classic, raucous-but-thoughtful Wolf Parade song. The album closes extremely strong too, reminiscent of Apologies, which featured the deadly "I'll Believe In Anything," "It's a Curse," "Dinner Bells," and "This Heart's on Fire" closing set. "Two Men in New Tuxedos" leads off a final four that excels in completing the disc. "Oh You, Old Thing" is my favorite "sad/slow" song on the album, but "Yulia" and "Cave-O-Sapien" are both stellar in their own rights as well.
Bottom line, Expo 86 is a return to form, and a return to the past for Wolf Parade. It's also potentially their best album, a declaration I'd never thought I'd make. I assumed their greatest work had happened, but this is a new day dawning. This is a new album that captures all of the disillusion, lovelorn-hope, and disjointed composition that made Wolf Parade essential five years ago. There's no filler, no crap. Just great music. Go pick it up.
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