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“A Case for Wolf Parade as Best Rock Band on the Planet”

What is the “music of our time,” in 2021? I think it’s safe to say that there’s no clear answer to this question. That is, rather than having one obvious, nuclear genre or blueprint to refer to as a default, we’re pretty much left to our own discretions to graze about and find what works best for us, as individuals.

In some cases, too, it’s possible that what works best is, simply, nostalgia, or a harking back to when rock music seemed really vital, or, ahem, “cool,” to use a hopelessly hackneyed term. It must have been this exact impetus that drove me to give Thin Mind (2020), Wolf Parade’s fifth album, another listen, having I think only taken it in as a whole back upon its release when I gave it a favorable review on this site. 

Truth be told, I was more or less braced for at least some semblance of annoyance, but all in all, after that full rehash, I stand by my initial score for the album, which I believe was eight and a half, or thereabouts. Opening track “Under Glass,” sure, doesn’t have quite the same dramatic awkwardness or climactic glory of their debut album Apologies to Queen Mary, or spooky, rustic energy of At Mount Zoomer. Actually, one quip I found myself making just waywardly about “Under Glass” was that it’s the first Wolf Parade track I’d ever heard that I could see playing on satellite radio, like in grocery stores, or whatever. Their first two albums were too quirky, like Modest Mouse kind of, and “urgent,” if you will, whereas their next two albums, Expo 86 and Cry Cry Cry, seemed to have the requisite blandness for satellite radio but so much so that, at least for me, I’d be offended by hearing one of my favorite bands showcased for such streamlined work lacking in their original fury. But then, I take this stuff a step further than most, you might say. 

On the whole, then, again, I place Thin Mind firmly in the three spot behind their brilliant first two albums, and in working back over the whole thing a second time, certain reasons started to materialize in my mind as to why this might be. One of these involves the uncanny way in which Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, the band’s two alternate singers and songwriters, have become pretty much indiscernible from each other — it’s like that phenomenon of when people start to look like their pets, or whatever. I’d listened back to the first four songs or so and actually totally forgotten that it even were two different singers at work (their voices have always sounded similar but at least on Apologies to Queen Mary you can easily demarcate the proud, anthemic major-chord Krug numbers from the tense and subtle Boeckner installments). To speak of their instrumentation, then, it’s full and robust without being ostentatious — they pepper just enough synth and organ into the mixes at certain, opportune times to keep things fresh. 

In deeper regards to the band’s exact m.o., then, I’d say, it still revolves around those quirky, little-boy-type vocals, which I guess you won’t like if it’s like your goal in life to be Rambo, or whatever. But with those singing parts, which, again, are ironically comprised of two different singers, respectively, though they all sound the same, Wolf Parade are drawing you into their world, which essentially entails a sensitive, overwhelmed perspective on everyday life. The messages, though, have matured and become more specific, from prior albums. As entertaining and funny as it was on At Mount Zoomer when Spencer Krug would exclaim “But this place here is no friend of mine” or “We are not at home / We are not at home / We are not at home”, etc., the new album finds the songwriting duo weaving more developed, elaborate, less metaphorical, tapestries of the general malady. “Julia Take Your Man Home,” for instance, conjures up some emotions that are fragile and completely indescribable, for the listener, in it’s deep, tenacious sympathy for this woman whose Jerseyite boyfriend [1] is drawing di** pics and rambling on about cocaine. “The Static Age” makes the unflinching and pertinent declaration that “I don’t want to live in a static age / Staying in a place where nothing changes / We can begin again” and the whole thing reminded me a little of “Language City,” which I’d already been thinking about (and which much of the time I consider their best song to date) and which of course furnishes the incessant plaint of “All this working / Just to tear it down”. 

Wolf Parade are operating from a position of quandary, when nothing seems to be working except for getting together and jamming, then dispatching all of their qualms, hence, within a format that’s much easier to digest than somebody just going on a crazy verbal rant. “Fall into the Future,” then, I think, suggests drug use, a strategy that marks a sort of permutation of the prior rhetoric and which I guess would align with my and Bill Hicks’ general theory that musicians, when effective, are typically “REAL fu**in’ high on drugs.” 

Does this relate to the concept of a “thin mind”? Or can a thick mind think it’s thin, or a thin think it’s thick? These are valid, hard to answer questions. I mean, in a way, in order for a thin mind to know it’s thin, it’s gotta know what it is to be thick, too, perhaps by way of transformation. So maybe Thin Mind marks a kind of point of liberation for the band, whereby they may dispatch truthfully and readily about any number of cultural or humanistic issues, from stasis, to vulgarity, to the phenomenon disclosed in closeur “Town Square” of “All we are is reaching for the light”, and stand on such solid ground, personally, that would seem to represent a special sort of headway they’ve made in their personal lives that grants them a sort of autonomy from the world around them. Maybe we’re only thick in droves, though, these days, the unprecedented proliferation of the masses in the cultural hubs to which we’re all probably in some way attracted. Since the war in Iraq, anyway, I think, rock music, and in particular indie rock, is music for philosophizing and ruminating to, and Wolf Parade just seem to be summing everything up better than anyone else out there these days.

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[1] Wolf Parade themselves hail from Montreal, according to Wikipedia

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