It’s not easy being in a band whose two primary songwriters have quite different ideas about how to write an indie-rock song. And when the members have more side projects than one can keep track of, it’s amazing anything gets done at all.
At least Wolf Parade had the guiding hand of Isaac Brock on their debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary. The production talents of the Modest Mouse frontman, who signed them to Sub Pop, helped ensure its ecstatic critical reception. Brock also helped reconcile the more classic rock and pop tendencies of guitarist Dan Boeckner with the more esoteric leanings of keyboardist Spencer Krug. (Each of the two writes about half the tracks.)
That Wolf Parade’s June follow-up, At Mount Zoomer, surpasses Queen Mary in the eyes of many critics is impressive given that Brock wasn’t around this time. Like their debut, it embraces a dense, almost cryptic existential lyricism, with ecstatic, riff-happy guitar and keyboards leading the way. But At Mount Zoomer — composed largely of songs that began as jam sessions at the church their associates Arcade Fire own on the outskirts of Montreal — sheds Brock’s oft-stifling influence in favor of a progressive ’70s flavor that recalls Jethro Tull more than Modest Mouse. Album closer “Kissing the Beehive” clocks in at 11 minutes, and epic guitar solos abound. Yet somehow the album coheres, most of its songs buoyed by simple, sing-along choruses. Wolf Parade’s lyrics are always a puzzle, but the album’s recurring themes are risk, adventure, and separation.
Risk in the creative process as well: before recording, Krug and Boeckner made no effort to see whether they were on the same page. “Dan and I don’t really confer when it comes to lyrics,” says Krug. “That’s sort of like an unspoken rule, where we leave each other alone. It doesn’t appeal to us to work that way. It would make it not fun. So I don’t really know what he’s singing about most of the time, and he doesn’t know what I’m singing about.”
To hear Krug tell it, the CD sort of jelled, as if under its own power. “It just came together naturally. There weren’t any overarching visions. It was more just making a record that we wanted to make and seeing if it was usable.”
They knew going in that they wanted to take their sweet time in the studio, and for this reason they couldn’t use the in-demand Brock. So drummer Arlen Thompson did the engineering and the initial recording, and the whole group contributed to the mixing and the producing.
The songs were recorded last summer, and the group decided not to use any tracks they hadn’t composed recently. This meant some live favorites got left off the album. “I’ve heard there’s people ‘angry’ at us for not recording them,” says the oft-inscrutable Krug about the band’s fans, “but they can record them themselves if they want.”