Beards, Blazers & Glasses or Wolf Parade, The Best New Band of the Decade?
In my book, there are two choices in the debate for the best rock band to debut in this decade: The Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade. Of course, I could get all trendy and pick some esoteric act doing all sorts of crazy things with guitar feedback and withered tape loops. Or maybe I could even pick some burgeoning hipster icons with beards and face paint who get a visceral kick out of tarring and feathering their audience (not to name any names).
But in an Internet world of constant and deafening buzz towards the next best thing, the hype surrounding these two Montreal bands is warranted. Granted, it's a bit premature to declare the greatness of either band, particularly given that both have just released one album and one EP apiece. Yet, out of any of the new bands that I've seen and heard in the last six years, these two stand above their peers.
Of course, other bands may still emerge from the pack. The Strokes kicked things off with a brilliant debut an an almost as great follow-up, before issuing a wobbly third album coupled with a boring live show. Broken Social Scene and The New Pornagraphers are both outstanding bands and brilliant pop craftsman yet their songs just don't reach the same emotional heights like those of The Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade's. The same goes for Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party. And while I'm impressed, I'm definitely not sold on the supreme greatness of TV on the Radio. And as for Interpol? Well, their first two albums are superb, but I'm not holding my breath for their Capitol Records debut.
In fact, if the hype about their upcoming album is to be believed, the band with the best shot at topping Wolf Parade or the Arcade Fire is The Hold Steady. Yet as staggeringly good as The Hold Steady is, neither Almost Killed Me and Seperation Sunday can match up with the gut-wrenching power and scale of Funeral, Apologies to the Queen Mary, or Shut Up I Am Dreaming (because it counts too...sorta).
Wolf Parade: Directly after finding out that Small Wonder was CanceledIf you're reading this right now, you're obviously aware of the Internet and Pitchfork and blogs etc, so I don't really need to defend the merits of the The Arcade Fire. Everyone likes them. They're famous now. Spin Magazine named them the 4th Best Live Band in the World. They even got awkwardly namedropped on that Seth Green sitcom that was recently cancelled. Maybe you even pretend to dislike them or think that they're overrated. But if you do, you're just being contrarian. And while I respect going against the grain, it goes without saying that when the decade is over Funeral will rank at or near the top of any good 10-year retrospective.
But Wolf Parade is an easier band to disparage. The production on Queen Mary isn't as effortlessly brilliant as that of Funeral. The song-writing and structures more bizzare and less immediately grabbing. Funeral is the album that you'd give to someone just starting to discover modern rock. Apologies to the Queen Mary is what you'd give them after they'd digested Twin Cinema, Turn on the Bright Lights, Is This It? etc.
Last Friday night, I saw Wolf Parade for the third time this year. The first was at the El Rey this January. The band had recently released their debut and I didn't know what to expect. Though I enjoyed their album a great deal, enough to rank it as my second favorite album of 2005, I wasn't altogther certain how the album's insular almost claustrophobic feel would translate to a live setting. Within minutes, my fears were incinerated and it became clear to everyone in the room that this was a band on the verge of greatness. I caught the band was at Coachella in May. Despite being delayed for 20 minutes because of faulty equipment, the band delivered a staggeringly brilliant set to the adulation of the crowd, all of whom seemed sold on the band's greatness. In fact, everyone I came with declared at the end of the festival that the two stand-out sets came from My Morning Jacket and Wolf Parade.
But not only was last Friday's show at the Wiltern easily the best show of the bunch, it showcased the rapid improvement of the band over the last eight months. In January, Wolf Parade seemed very much a band in transition, adjusting to newly added guitarist, former Hot Hot Heat guitarist Dante DeCaro (who might've made the best trade since Atlanta swapped an aging Doyle Alexander for John Smoltz) and the full-time addition of sound manipulator Hadji Bakara. Since then Wolf Parade has settled into their sound, taking on a more confident stage presence, growing more secure in their capabilities to stretch the sonics of the album's tightly wound quirky arrangements.
I've made clear in the past my admiration for Spencer Krug's genius, his Shut Up I Am Dreaming album (my clear-cut choice for Album of the Year) and the grim elegant poetics of his songs on Apologies To The Queen Mary. On Friday night, his compelling stage presence and haunting emotion-laden voice were on display and seemed brilliant as always. But whereas in January and May, Krug stole the show outright, as his songs seemed to reach higher peaks than his fellow lead singer, Dan Boeckner, last week's show showcased the band's congealed and more fluid sound, with each player attuned to the others' strengths and weaknesses, each transition perfectly timed, every note hit.
Indeed Boeckner has improved a great deal this year, channeling his Isaac Brock by way of Bruce Springsteen voice with an even more intense fury, furiously writhing on-stage with every note. But it's not just Boeckner who has spearhead the group's continuing evolution. DeCaro has also come into his own, providing a more fleshed out and full sound to the band's already rich layers of noise. And Arlen Thompson, the group's drummer remains their secret weapon, keeping a steady thudding beat, ensuring that each time shift bursts with power and momentum.
Wolf Parade Takes Matters Into Their Own Hands: Builds Their Own Vicki The RobotIn addition to the songs from Apologies, Wolf Parade displayed several new cuts from their soon to-be-recording sophomore album. Judging from their quality, I'm not expecting a sophomore slump. If anything, they seemed to point towards a more mature sound from the band, in a slower and more proggy way, further removed from the sound of their earlier influences, most notably Frog Eyes and Modest Mouse.
While the concert as a whole was summarily excellent, the high point of the show came during the second encore, when the band tackled the Krug composition, "Dinner Bells." A 7 and a half minute piece on the album, the band seemed to stretch it out even further and more beautifully in the live setting. Amping the song's already eerie and haunting quality, the band turned it into an almost funereal dirge evoking themes of a long-gone childhood. While the album version may have sounded a bit thin and a bit slow, live, every bell, clap and chime sounded crystal clear, each twisting jagged guitar chord sounded more immediate, drenched in emotion and passion.
I hate to be another droning voice adding to the hype machine, but sometimes the truth is the truth. And judging from their live show, their debut album, and Krug's spectacular Sunset Rubdown side project, Wolf Parade are looking more and more like the real deal. Greatness is well within their reach. There are a lot of very good bands out there. There are fewer great ones and even fewer with the chance to one day go down as being important. Wolf Parade is one of them.
Download--"Disco Sheets" from their 2005 self-titled EP
Download-- "Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts"
Download--"We Built Another World"