Review Summary: Maybe the best synthesis of the band's schizoid sound yet.
Lately I’ve been wondering whether it’s possible for me to like music as much as I used to years ago, when everything seemed so fresh and new and I was hearing so many bands for the first time and loving it all. So many of those bands that really came to define my tastes put out later albums that, for whatever reason, just never hit me with the same impact. The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love
was damn good and I adored it, but am I still listening to it nowadays? No, but I can definitely say that I regularly throw on Picaresque
or Her Majesty
on an occasional basis, still with the same vigor I had back in high school. It makes me wonder: am I honestly just not into certain bands as much as I used to be, or am I imagining a decline in quality because nothing will match that certain nostalgic feeling I get from listening to old favorites?
When I first heard Expo 86
a little under a month ago, I hated it. I thought it was Wolf Parade, a band I absolutely fell in love with after their brilliant debut, playing it safe and close to the chest, typical structures matching typical Wolf Parade lyrics formatted in typical Wolf Parade songwriting (you know, that slightly herky-jerky, everything’s-about-to-fall-apart-but-never-actually-does musical style). It wasn’t Apologies to the Queen Mary
, and, apart from occasional flashes, it wasn’t really that close, and that pissed me off. But it wasn’t At Mt. Zoomer
, a bloated mess of an album if ever there was one, so I gave it another chance. And another, and another, and I began to realize something – this is a distinctly Wolf Parade record, one that is decidedly separate from either Apologies
and entirely the better for it. It’s different from both those records, both in the strength of its songwriting (something that took me many listens to appreciate) and the way it somehow combines two increasingly divergent personalities in Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner into something definitely double-sided but still uniform.
Fans of the band will definitely be able to tell who wrote opener “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain,” what with its paranoid vocal line, spindly guitar work and frantic rhythm (Krug), just as they’ll be able to tell who’s responsible for “Palm Road,” with its more swelling melody and cavernous sounds (Boeckner). But Expo 86
, more than any work in the band’s catalog, shows a band working together to create something arguably as strong as anything they’ve done before, something I never would have thought possible considering the amount of time both songwriters were putting into more creatively satisfying side projects. Krug’s overlying weirdness is still evident, particularly on the opener and the wild closer “Cave-o-Sapien,” but he seems to be more influenced by Boeckner in putting more of a pop bent on things, focusing on crafting one of the record’s most gorgeous yet straightforward melodies on “Oh You, Old Thing” or taking a page from Boeckner’s guitar style with the slinky “What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way).” Combine songs like these with Boeckner’s expectedly superb, if more reserved, pop offerings like the stick-in-your-head chorus to “Ghost Pressure,” the anthemic “Little Golden Age” and even more Krugian mini-epics like “Pobody’s Nerfect,” and Expo 86
comes across as maybe the best synthesis of the band's schizoid sounds yet.
It’s not that Krug has tamed his more out-of-left-field impulses in favor of a more shackled sound, or that Boeckner hasn’t expanded his horizons – it’s that the songwriting is so rock solid and the songs themselves so genuinely fresh that it sounds like the band is almost starting anew, throwing away the experimental stench that torpedoed At Mt. Zoomer
and going back to what really made them great. “Yulia” is the kind of wrenching love song I never thought I’d hear from Wolf Parade; “Oh You, Old Thing” is a shimmering break-up tune that I’d never expect from a lyrical oddball like Krug; hell, all the songs here are so atypically direct and so great it’s hard not to fall in love. It’s not as delightfully jagged around the edges as Apologies
, but perhaps the band needed to move away from that sound and into more traditional indie rock territory. Expo 86
proves that Krug and Boeckner still can do what’s always been most important, namely writing songs that still kick ass at every available opportunity. And while this isn’t as immediately satisfying as Apologies
still is to me . . . maybe in a couple of years it will be.