Arts and Culture

Everybody Loves a Wolf Parade

Contemplating the definitive 21st-century band.

By Josh Massey 22 Jul 2010 | TheTyee.ca

Josh Massey is completing his practicum at The Tyee.

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It's all downhill from here.

Little Red Riding Hood need not fear the Wolf Parade.

Arlen Thompson would teach her how to hit the drums the way he learned in obscure Montreal taverns; Dante DeCaro could tutor on the guitar-clawing techniques he mastered during his Hot Hot Heat days; Dan Boeckner might illustrate how to tingle spines with the right howl; and second vocalist Spencer Krug could offer a seminar in metaphor and deep image.

Former member Hadji Baraka has been ceremonially torn into pieces, meanwhile, and divided up among the others, who are trying to make up for his absence with miniature keyboards. Which looks kind of awkward in the YouTube videos. On July 25, despite those awkward little synths, Vancouver's Vogue Theatre will be metaphorically wrecking-balled by the big, bad Wolf Parade sound. The occasion is the band's tour for new album, Expo 86.

The title does indeed refer to Vancouver's world's fair of 25 years ago, which the band members attended as impressionable lads coming of age in B.C. It also hints at the heavy synthesizer presence on the new album. "It's not verbatim taking a page from new wave or goth," veteran Vancouver producer Howard Redekopp tells The Tyee. "It reminds me of an early '80s UK aesthetic but it's used in a new context which makes it sound original." Wolf Parade's ability to revive older musical themes is part of the complex pack anatomy that makes them a definitive 21st century indie/punk/rock band.

The Hunger of Influence

It's hard to rebut that old Barenaked Ladies line that "It's all been done" -- there is only so much a few people on a stage with instruments can pull off without overlap. Some musicians descend into experimentation, fishing for wild breakthroughs. Wolf Parade has moments of this kind of alchemy, like "In the Direction of the Moon," one of the standout tracks on Expo 86 -- but they also innovate by exploring the musical past from different angles. "California Dreamer" from second album At Mount Zoomer, is a clever reimagining of "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas and the Papas. "This Heart's On Fire," a Boeckner song from Wolf Parade's first album, Apologies to the Queen Mary, echoes "Getting Better" from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. The contrast between Boeckner's hoarse, urgent delivery and the wake 'n bake chirpiness of Lennon/McCartney makes this an artful imitation -- not stealing. Of Boeckner's work on Expo 86, Matthew Fiander writes in PopMatters that he is "still filtering Springsteen effectively through new wave sounds." By creatively embracing their 20th century influences, WP evokes a level of excitement that recalls past hits. The audience will likely recognize the references. O secret joys of the insider!

Strength In the Side Pack

If 20th Century Fox was about the singular, blockbuster mentality, alternate projects are the driving force behind our 21st Century Wolf. In this pack-happy era, music fans want a band that can shape-shift in pace with their ever-changing and infinitely accessible culture. 'Side project' used to be a softly derogatory term meaning insignificant or secondary. In the case of Wolf Parade, Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner keep the surprises rolling between albums with the neo-Floyd of Sunset Rubdown and the rock-out duo Handsome Furs. Redekopp points out that a really prolific band, these days, "will do one album per year. Most bands take 16 months to two years." Tally up Expo 86 with Krug and Boeckner's other main projects, and we're up to three albums in the past 24 months. For WP to have multiplied into this many-headed, 21st-century wolf baby is a victory for artistic freedom in an industry where, according to Redekopp, record companies big and small generally want "first dibs on everything a band does." The success of the side projects owes much to the third aspect of 21st Century Wolf era.

Spreading Word Like the Flu

"This band my son downloaded rocks," says the sailor in Prince Rupert as he works on his boat while listening to "I'll Believe in Anything" from his iPod dock. "I get them on podcasts when I'm in Taiwan," says the expat English teacher. "Wolf Parade's Expo 86 Teaches a Baby-Toting Dad to Love Modern Rock," chimes in David Bidini in the National Post.

Through viral promotion, Wolf Parade has reached beyond the fickle music scene buzz to penetrate the lives of people who aren't super up on the scene. Word of mouth, as spread over the Net, is said to have been the main force propelling Arcade Fire's fame, and Wolf Parade followed close on its heels.

This 21st Century Wolf is all about doing what they did in the good old days within a future-is-now media environment. Though single-hub computer technology permits a band to record on location in ways they couldn't 15 years ago, the fact that Wolf Parade recorded all the instrumentals for Expo 86 together live off the floor "is a testimony to their skill as the band, not the technology," says Redekopp. It should also mean that nothing will be lost in translation at the Vogue Theatre on July 25.  [Tyee]

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