Wolf Parade – Semi-Precious Stone / Agents Of Love

SEMI-PRECIOUS STONE / AGENTS OF LOVE

It’s over! Gotta be willing to take the L! Wolf Parade is gone gone gone, and so it is and most likely so it shall ever be, and with their demise my memories associated with them become, probably, more hip but more melancholy. And they go out by giving us a two-song single, featuring the two songs named in the title. Ten minutes or so of interesting-voiced prog-rock, as they’ve really gone full pro at this point. They stopped singing about reality long ago, and here maybe more than ever, singing about bartering in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and secret agents coming for your hearts.
Of the two, the former is far better since “Agents Of Love” has a really annoying harmonic riff shadowing most of its lines, and SPS has a good thumping beat, and I should mention that the topic is actually pretty cool instead of way out there spec sci-fi. But about the unreality: life is, of course, a series of mundane events punctuated by moments of clarity and emotion, and neither of these songs really gets at any of “it,” it being what actually interests me in art. So it’s more than a bit lost on me, even if I always liked their sound. I presume he’s still not in love with the modern world, and I’d love to argue about that instead of dreaming about secret agents and the sky turning brownish grey and distant explosions and whatnot. And yes, the idea of “the sound of the sky foaming at the mouth” is quite evocative, the most evocative that it gets here, but it’s not backgrounded by enough reality to make it seem properly stark. Maybe if I play some of their earlier songs in rotation. I’d give it about a 30% chance of being true.

6 / 10

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Wolf Parade – Expo ’86

I said “I’M MOSTLY INTO MUSIC FOR THE PERSONALIZED CRAP, SO I’LL ALWAYS LIKE THE FIRST ALBUM MORE,” THANKS.

 

I have to subtract points for sadness, because I miss Apologies to the Queen Mary and now I know it’s never coming back. That album was a wonderful thing, and I remember seeing Wolf Parade way back in the day at the Danforth Music Hall and thinking ‘this is something great.’ It’s a wonderful feeling to realize you’re witnessing a musical happening, a real new talent, some band that seemingly appears fully formed in your life and starts popping into your thoughts and you god damned like it, you like it a lot. “Spend boring years in the office tower / On a bus on a bus back home to you and / That’s fine I’m barely alive” YES “You’ll believe in anything and I’ll believe in anything” YES “I’m not in love with the modern world / It was a torch to drive the savages back to the trees” YES it was just about every song on that damned album. So correct, so staccato, so tense, yet so fun to listen to.

“At Mount Zoomer” was still usually pretty good. I knew it was foolish to feel like the songs related to me that time, but I still tried and with some cajoling I could convince myself to connect songs and days, this walk with my girlfriend with The Grey Estates, this night on the Gardiner with A Soldier’s Grin’s two glorious verses, and it was still usually fun to listen to.

This time the jig’s up. The band’s moved on from what I love and I’m left holding onto memories. There’s no way any of this relates to me and it’s barely fun to hear. This is very serious music. No having fun to these songs! They are all very long and multi-part and bathed in moody, fuzzy keyboards, and never have repeated, normal choruses like normal songs. Oh, lots of bands can pull off the “we’re too good for repetition” bit. The Unicorns are the first that come to mind. But The Unicorns wrote short, fun songs where each bit was catchy on its own. On this one the songs are all quite good – they’re carefully constructed and well played and I like the musical interplay and Spencer’s extremely nervous voice is a nice change, but I’ll turn to it when I’m sad. And like I said, the songs are not evenly made, so just when you really like something – like the chorus of the first half of “Palm Road” or the keyboard line in the verses of the first half of “Golden Age” – it’s gone forever, replaced with texture and atmosphere, or something. I never had much time for “lush” sounds and they’re over this one, usually it’s a sure sign that the songwriting is down.

Oh, and the songs are quite long. Nearly all of them clock in well over five minutes, and that’s a long time for all this above average blandness to sink in until it has gone through you and you barely remember the songs at all. Seriously, does “In The Direction of the Moon” do anything worth remembering in six minutes? “Ghost Pressure” and “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain”, among others are nice when listening, but make no significant emotional connection. On the last third of the album the dudes take a left turn down Cute Song Title Lane and come up with the best of the standard tracks with “Pobody’s Nerfect”, but “Two Men in New Tuxedos” is just a short forgettable song, and “Oh You, Old Thing” is back to the usual sameness. Thankfully the album saved its two best songs for the end, the paleolithic waltz duo of love song “Yulia” and actually fun rocker “Cave-o-sapien”, the only one of the long rock songs that hangs together well enough to make a recommendation. Really, the switch from super-serious art to caveman chanting isn’t as far of a shift as I’d like (it probably has some weird artistic justification going on about man’s connection with apes or our inner children or something) but it does something nothing on the album does for me: it makes me pace around my apartment enjoying the hell out of listening, or when I’m walking down the street I get a spring in my step. Once again, I feel like I’m on to something great. But of course, it and the album are too-quickly over and I feel a bit empty for knowing that hitting play on “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain” will leave me unfulfilled.

6/10

Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer

A totes change in focus! It’s like…prog-indie! Wolf Parade doesn’t write songs that’ll remind you of that time you got coked up and wandered around the Dufferin Mall anymore indie kids; it’s all downhill from here.

But seriously, indie kids, it’s still pretty good as long as you can dig that when the album opens with “In my head there’s a city at night” he’s probably talking some futuristic non-city, not Montreal or Toronto or New York at all! Thankfully, the whole thing is rather steampunk, with everything having this noir atmosphere with dampened synths. Why, you can practically make a bunch of hilarious hard boiled similes about a few of the songs!

But I won’t, because that requires a lot of thought…so, the songs are a lot longer on average, and they’re mostly about things like rituals in a dangerous desert (“Call It A Ritual”) or being soldiers in an unexplained war, and neverending cities, more Chrono-Trigger-style-2300-AD than Coruscant, for nerdly reference.

That’s a bit of a drag for me – the only song on here with anything like the first album’s personalized exposition is “California Dreamer,” the album’s centerpiece and friends leaving for the warmth of L.A., which any Canadian can understand. Also, there’s the excellent “The Grey Estates,” the most upbeat song on here with its catchy, happy-happy keyboards, that always reminds me of this time I wandered The Bridle Path (the richest area in Toronto – we saw a fox crossing a road) with my girlfriend, but it may actually be about wandering around the homes of the fantastically rich, so hey.

There are also some quite disappointing songs – what’s up with “Bang Your Drum” and the first two minutes of “An Animal in Your Care”? Why is “Kissing the Beehive” so goshdarned long? Why doesn’t “Fine Young Cannibals” do anything instead of just having a neat-o riff for its six and a half lyrics? But it’s still overall a quite pleasing album of odd topics with occasionally wonderful lyrics and catchy toons. But seriously, I’m mostly into music for the personalized crap, so I’ll always like the first album more. But don’t get bent out of shape! Just listen to the verses of “Soldier’s Grin”! Feel better again, right? Me too!

8/10
 

Wolf Parade – Apologies to the Queen Mary

So, I had just turned 20 and finished my second year of university, and I was quite the wreck. My mother had died months ago, but I hadn’t taken any time to process it, instead focusing on getting through the semester and drinking vodka alone in my dorm room, avoiding my family and listening to early Beck, early Pavement, and Eels. My music taste was, to put it delicately, a little pathetic. I’d long been obsessed with music (since about twelve), but I really hadn’t gotten caught up to the present yet: after spending my childhood listening to what my parents listened to and my early teen years listening to what a good angsty Canadian teen listens to, but since I’d really been caught in a fairly scattershot selection of albums, in an attempt to find myself by looking through as many doors at once as possible. So I had The Velvet Underground, Fugazi, Pavement, early R.E.M., but very little from my contemporaries in terms of both time and location.

I’ll tell this story a million times with a slightly different point: I was unemployed. I had time to sit around listening to music and drinking all day, and it was the hottest, most humid summer of my life. I was young enough that I didn’t get fat, old enough to blend into the city, and miserable enough that I didn’t have the urge to get out of bed in the morning. I’d go entire days without leaving my apartment; closing my eyes and battling hangovers until my roommates left for work and picturing paint peeling off of the walls from the heat and my brain from the aftereffects. I was on my own planet culturally; a wacky world where people listened to Pavement and Radiohead and Dead Kennedys side by side with Travis and it was timeless, and it all fell a little short of saying something to me about my life. It was all I had, though, and I loved it as much as I could, being 20 and sheltered and shellshocked and not sure how to function in the real world, which, to be fair, I wouldn’t have to enter for another few years. In lieu of the real world I don’t think I really had a world at all. I was an idiot in the classical sense and in ingenue to the things it isn’t sexy to be an ingenue about: waking up in the morning, returning phone calls, connecting the internet. In a way, this is leading to something.

So, my girlfriend at the time who listened to cooler music than me, Bonnie, gets me to take her to a show playing at Massey Hall, a downtown venue I mostly knew as a concert theatre frequented by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, where I had performed several times as part of vocal choirs. Not really a good venue for a rock show. We get in a bit late, having scalped the scalper’s last pair of tickets, and some guy is the opening act, and he’s playing on a violin and singing…and nothing else. And he’s awesome. So I ask a guy sitting down who it is, and he replies with understanding of my awe “some guy named Final Fantasy…I don’t know.” The second band is Wolf Parade. The headliners were Arcade Fire. Are you the messiah? Yes I am.

Obviously, AF were the show, and the story of my life since then would have been way more lonely without them, but Wolf Parade aren’t quite as good, but are still great, and represented more generally the new model of my new favourite genre: meaningful indie-rock by bands comprised of people like me, who grew up in the same places, with the same struggles and pressures and situations and cultural milieus. Basically, listener-avatars. And I tended to like them as much like me as possible: the best place to be from is Toronto, that way they can reference places I know. Failing that, any cold climate does the trick fairly well. No conservatives, but no god damned hippies either. Joy but not contentment. Irony above misery. Friends and not enemies, but friend-watching is even better. And for fuck’s sakes, don’t write about this stuff too often or take yourself so seriously, and read your classics and drink far too much. Romanticism and fatalism.

I don’t mean to say, of course, that Wolf Parade were the only group that moved me along in life, just that they’re a good example. It’s not to say I don’t listen to anything else these daze. Excuse me for a minute, I have to apologize to a friend for calling her “a gaping, gaping cunt” while I was drunk on Saturday. As you can see, I’ve become a very well-adjusted and likeable man.

So anyway. Indie broke as a genre back then, and it was good. Indie is a “thing” now, with Vampire Weekend debuting at #1 and all that, but at the time it was something special and awe-inspiring to suddenly see music made by earnest young men from Montreal that didn’t sound like anything I’d heard before. I forget whose quote it was (Moliere) that every generation gets to discover love for itself and think it has found something new – I’m pretty sure that was “Shine A Light” for me. And yes, I’m exaggerating, but gosh darn. “Spend boring hours / in the office tower / In a bus / on a bus back home to you.” Remember those two isms I just mentioned? And the chorus goes “You know our hearts beat time out very slowly / You know our hearts beat time / They are waiting for something that’ll never arrive” and it…never? Never! Just for an added dose of cynicism. And then the guitars pick up the already catchy riff and it’s quite fun and upbeat sounding despite how you know it is.

It’s never quite as good elsewhere, but everything here is about slowly getting used to being resigned, and fighting it off with varying degrees of success. At least that’s certainly the gestalt, and it feels warm and familiar like frost in late November. Only it’s music, so it’s great. I wonder how people like you and i avoided slipping up and becoming lonely, fat shells of human beings by now. So many people we know have done so. It’s nice to be pretentious once in a while.

Except for that one song about murdering Jews, this is a real “corker.” Also, the intro to “Fancy Claps” steals the riff from AC/DCs “Hells Bells.” Good one, paradesters. Now at last I can delete this motherfucking album off of my iPod – do you know how difficult it is to write about albums you care about and not have it turn into pretentious trash? Oh wait. Fuck.

9/10

Wolf Parade – Wolf Parade EP

Everybody got their lid on tight
Everybody says “come with me
I’m easy” and then we’ll see who’s got the secrets
So if you’re looking for romancing
I’ve got answers
With dancers that will never say “come with me
I’m easy,” and then we’ll see who reads the deepest

Everybody got their hair just right
And their lips just right
And their eyes say “come with me, i’m easy”
And we’ll see who gots the secrets
No one has to see
Believe me, oh
I’m sorry about the dark, dum dum dum da-dum

And this is from a song with an upbeat disco darkness thing going on! WAAAHHH! It’s catchy! It’s cynical! It’s called “Disco Sheets”! I give it 10/10!

Also, there’s 3 other songs on here. There’s “Shine A Light,” which pretty much gave me reason to live for a few years (even though it’s not a happy song – I just liked feeling identified with) but is on the forthcoming album, there’s “You Are A Runner and I Am My Father’s Son,” which is about eight tenths as great but is also on the album in slightly elongated form, and there’s the muddled “Lousy Pictures,” which isn’t that great even if I do love that “da DA-DA DA DA, DA DA daaa dun, DA DA DA DA” part that kicks in about halfway through.

For this EP the parade added a drummer, Arlen Thompson. I don’t know if he came up with the catchy pattern that runs “YAARAIAMFS,” but if so, good pod, old bean! They also seem to have gotten some sort of real studio, as the drums are no longer electronic, and the vocals no longer sound like synths set to “makewordssomehow.” I could see disappointment at the sound becoming much more standard indie-rockish with its guitars, keyboards, drums, and occasional keyboards (programmed by someone named “Hadji”….Sounds like a moose limb name!), but it’s what turns me on, so cram it with crabapples, fatty.

Mumble mumble, and here’s another great idea: next St. Patrick’s Day, pretend you think all the green is in honour of Islam and not a (possibly nonexistant) Irishman. Then act all surprised when you assume all the beer is non-alcoholic. Speaking of St. Patrick’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day is stupid. Firstly, you’re not Irish. Secondly, if you need a stupid excuse to drink then you don’t deserve the joy of drinking. Fourthyl, I imagine that alcoholism has torn apart far more Irish families than it has brought together. Fourthly, “we’re all Irish today!” = “We’re all dumb assholes today!” Fourthly, you are a shame to your culture. Fourthly, Sarah Palin’s getting a reality show? FUCK OFF. Fourthly, any beer is green beer with the addition of SARAH PALIN? AGGHHH NO. Lastly, I just resent institutional holidays, okay?

8/10

Wolf Parade – 6 Song EP

Six songs (as you may well have guessed) on this EP, with four coming from the album, and two non-album songs for to wet your whistles.

The four songs that made the album are all pretty bedrock indie rock tunes and therefore worthy additions, but only if you have somehow obtained this EP but not the album. See, unlike the last EP, the songs all sound more or less exactly like they do on the album with slightly worse production. Furthermore, the four do not include any of the big money (no “Shine A Light” or “Same Ghost Every Night” here) So, unless you really need to hear “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” with a brief intro and an outro that doesn’t segue into “I’ll Believe In Anything” (another money track that isn’t present), or a version of “We Built Another World” where the whole band sounds hungover and the lead singer sounds like he has a pair of balls in his throat, or “Grounds For Divorce” and “It’s A Curse” with slightly elongated instrumental breakdowns (by ten seconds in the first and twenty seconds in the latter) then you don’t particularly need them here. Really, these are very good songs, but these sound like earlier takes in the same recording sessions.

But what about the two other tracks? Well, son, “The National People’s Scare” is fantasticabulouxcellent! A slow droning sadness about something involving hopelessness and rotting birds and sprawl. Oh, it’s great stuff, it is. Sadly, the last song, “Killing Armies” is distinguishable only by having a dumb descending fart-buzz riff and a less offensive but still meh ascending keyboard riff at the same time and no memorable melody at all. Who needs ’em!

In conclusion, 7 + 7 + 7 + 7 + 9 + 4 / 6 = ~7, and that’s all folks!

7/10

Wolf Parade – 4 Song EP

Our Premier cancels sex educations because it might offend religious groups AND Wolf Parade have a six year old EP released before we knew they were cool? Why, it’s the greatest decade ever!

KEYBOARDS. The defining characteristic of this EP is that there are glammy, distorted, loud keyboards all up in its songs, killing your no I won’t I’m sorry. Innit? Basically, they are the main instrument, with the guitars being second fiddles and tubas. Plus, they had no drummer, so all the drums are electric (they’re well-programmed at least), and the vocals are so distorted and oddly recorded that they blend right in with the keyboards and guitars, making the sound all a big mishmash. Some might not like it, especially since these guys are more or less not the Wolf Parade we know, but I think it’s el grande. They sound way more nerdy and steampunk this way – and over four songs I can handle having loud keyboards that sound like guitars and loud guitars that sound like keyboards (likely due to poverty more than intent). It’s a rather unique sound, and I like unique sounds as long as the songs are good enough.

There’s only four songs, so let’s handle them one by one, yes? “Modern World,” sounds little like its indie rock remake on the later album, with the soundmash making the disconcerted vocals sound more desperate but less personal. Plus, the electric drums sound funny when you know the real ones! However, the keyboards really help the cartoonishly ominous “Wits or a Dagger,” and I love the guitar/keyboard two-ear interplay (the only time they really do this) on “Secret Knives,” which is really catchy until you forget it’s even playing. Lastly, “Dinner Bells” is a little too fast for its post-apocalyptic, fatalist lyrics…Can’t anyone find a way to slow it down a bit, like maybe on a latter album? But rest assured, “Dinner Bells” fans, the ending is still two minutes too long! And on here it features a HARMONICA. I like harmonicas.

You know what I don’t like? When people I run into, at work or randomly or whatever, make their first statement “how are you?” or “how’s it going?” What the fuck am I ever going to say except “good!” or something uncomfortably honest? At least ask me what I’m up to. Fucking people.

8/10