Wolf Parade making rocks (courtesy Brooklyn Vegan)
Wolf Parade + Think About Life + Dante Decaro
October 25, 2005
When Sub Pop sent me a copy of Wolf Parade‘s Apologies to the Queen Mary a couple of months before it dropped, I listened to it once, decided that it sounds too much like Modest Mouse, and filed it away, comfortable in the assumption that I’d never listen to it again. So I was completely unprepared for the deluge of praise that the album attracted when it actually came out: 9.2 in Pitchfork (tied with Sufjan for the year’s second-highest rating after Kanye), A and Album of the Week in Stylus, Metacritic score of 86. So how did this album that sounded to me like pleasant-enough boilerplate fuzz-crackle-rock get this much love?
After seeing the band at Northsix last night, I think I’ve got it figured out. Wolf Parade is the ultimate indie-rock band circa right now. They’re not the best or the most important, but they give the impression that the primordial soup of indiedom just sort of burped them out, that we would’ve had to invent them if they didn’t already exist. Evidence: they do the vaguely Tom Waits junkyard-blues thing just like Modest Mouse does it, their vocals almost studiously warbly and off-kilter, like they’ve spent year studying David Byrne’s vocal tics. And yet somehow this warble doesn’t feel forced; they’ve absorbed Byrne and Brock and Waits and organically woven them into their sound rather than forcibly jamming them in. They nod toward the tea-party Decemberism currently in vogue in indie-rock, occasionally breaking out the waltz time signature, but they never quite succumb to it; they’re just burly and heartfelt enough to escape. They alternate between sloppy, grating verses and tight, driving choruses, and they come closer to falling apart when they play faster. They make room for vintage keyboards and laptops, but they’re still very much a guitar band. They still have a Myspace page. Also: beards and Montreal and the word Wolf. They’re everything indie-rock seems to want out of its bands at this particular moment.
And more to the point, they’re a good band, something it took me a while to realize. Their melodies have a greasy Springsteen pull, a warmth and self-assuredness that comes through even more clearly in person. They tend to follow a fairly simple formula: vintage-keyboard guy plays the melody, laptop/themerin guy squiggles and twitters around the margins, and the two guitars fill in all the space in between. But this formula works; it keeps them from ever climbing into majesty or sinking into pretentiousness. They’re just a strong band that does this now-indie shit right, and there’s not a thing wrong with that.
So the real pleasure of Wolf Parade comes from how they color within the lines, how they take this thing we know as indie-rock now and play it with confidence and grace. It’s an impression driven home harder by the opening band, which is billed as Dante Decaro but is basically three fifths of Wolf Parade playing truly pleasant coffeehouse singer-songwriter fare (Decaro himself is a former Hot Hot Heat bassist who just joined the band). It’s simple pastoral stuff; the drummer from Wolf Parade drums while the laptop/themerin guy plays percussion and Decaro sings and plays guitar and occasionally makes use of one of those metal things that hold up harmonicas so you can play them while you play guitar. The two-drummers thing adds a hint of novelty to the whole thing and some drive to the songs, but this is still a singer-songwriter doing singer-songwriters stuff, something we’ve seen a million times before, and Decaro’s lyrics do nothing to wipe away the whole cliche thing (“I look outside / The world goes by / And so do I / And so do I,” for real). But it was all done so nicely and prettily and sincerely that I couldn’t get mad at it. Cliches are there for a reason, and doing a cliche right certainly isn’t a crime; I’d say it’s an achievement.
Think About Life, who played between Decaro and Wolf Parade, threw the whole sincerity thing into sharp relief. The band is basically Napoleon Dynamite if Napoleon Dynamite was a band, and I hated Napoleon Dynamite. Think About Life’s singer is a fat guy who uses his size to act clownish onstage, slapping his stomach and doing unbelievably irritating mime dances and pirouettes, wearing a shirt that says “Steroid Free Body”. There’s no guitar in the band, just drums and cheap keyboards, and it seems worth asking whether it’s OK for an indie band to base its songs around Casio presets after LCD Soundsystem and Cut Copy and Supersystem. I’m inclined to say no, not even if the band is from Olympia, and Think About Life isn’t from Olympia. By the time they got to their fake-cutesy Stay in School rap, I wanted to die. This band made me want to die.
Voice blog: Riff Raff interviews Wolf Parade