Canada’s Wolf Parade are in a tricky spot. In 2005, after producing Apologies to the Queen Mary, a debut album of raw, angular brilliance they equalled, or bettered it, with 2008’s At Mount Zoomer. And so the third one, Expo 86 arrives with all this this baggage and a certain weight of expectation. The now familiar throaty voice of Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug’s pessimistic drowning man vocals, again take turns on the 11 tracks here, and the unrefined sound of the guitars and keyboards never veer out of the area that they defined for themselves on the first two albums – there’s no shameless retreading of retro synth sounds here. The songs are still pleasingly long (averaging about 5.30 minutes) and many twist and turn over the course of each track, changing pace and tempo somewhat.
All this being equal, why then is the album more difficult to get into than the others? To be fair, the other albums were real growers and it was about six months after the release of ‘¦Zoomer when its glory really sank home with us. Getting your teeth into meaty epics like -Kissing The Beehive’ took a pleasurable amount of time, but on this new album it seems there is not as much to chew on.
We begin with a surreal tale of dream-catchers, mini-vans and boat shoes with Krug telling us we’ll ‘never be born as a scorpion’. Hard to get a handle on what he’s talking about but it does come across as classic Wolf Parade, dipping in pace and finishing with a minute of rocking-out which may prove great live. The closest to the three-act mini-epics of old is -What Did My Lover Say’, built on a deliberate pace, Krug’s once-again surreal lyrics do manage to create some beautiful ideas; ‘I don’t think I should be sorry, for things I do in dreams, some people live like they’re falling, some people die in their sleep’.
Much of Boeckner’s songs follow a more upbeat pace and the straightforward, but still satisfying -Yulia’ is as good a driving-at-night song as you’ll get. The synth-heavy -Ghost Pressure’ is much in the same pace and perhaps it’s the lack of breath in the peaks and troughs that we’ve become accustomed to on a Wolf Parade record that reduces the impact. It’s worth bearing in mind that in six months, we may have this album down as one of our favourites of the year because no doubt there is much, much more to explore in the dim corners of Expo 86.
The Montreal four-piece have always given much more than the sum of their parts (despite the myriad bands that branch out from the members, eg. Sunset Rubdown and Handsome Furs) both on previous records, and in the unhinged live shows. Perhaps this record will grow and expand with a little time, and perhaps a gig or two to add to it so we’ll have to wait and see, and invest some listening time in, in the meanwhile. Where Wolf Parade are concerned, it’s a chance well worth taking.