If any band could be rightfully expected to deliver on the promise of a debut as stellar as Apologies to the Queen Mary, Wolf Parade is that band. While a slew of similar groups turned in less than stellar sophomore records (Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Tapes ‘n Tapes, and even Arcade Fire), At Mount Zoomer proves Wolf Parade to be more than a one-trick pony. And it’s no surprise — both of the band’s primary songwriters have established themselves as two of the most consistent songwriters in indie rock, coming off of great records in their own right: Spencer Krug‘s Random Spirit Lover with Sunset Rubdown (not to mention the Swan Lake record), and Dan Boeckner‘s Plague Park with Handsome Furs. Even after spending three years away from the Parade, they’ve come to Mount Zoomer with a fresh reel of tape and a mature, confident approach.
Where Apologies showcased a young, energetic band still searching for its sound (with the production help of Modest Mouse‘s Isaac Brock), Mount Zoomer features the same outfit harnessing all the things that made its debut so appealing, but with a conscious effort to avoid rewriting the same record. The overall feel is less exuberant and more patient, with drummer Arlen Thompson handling production duties at his own Mount Zoomer recording studio. The arrangements seem to be better thought out, as well; the guitars function more as melodies or lead parts than rhythmic elements, and the keyboards occupy a higher (or at least equal) place in the mix. And while this album may not contain as many immediately gratifying hits (there’s nothing along the lines of “Shine a Light” or “I’ll Believe in Anything”), it’s still a more cohesive record. Leadoff single “Call It a Ritual” rides a stuttering piano figure, and recalls indie rock mainstays Spoon — in fact, so does “Fine Young Cannibals,” and clean keyboards factor much more prominently in Mount Zoomer than the treated synths of Queen Mary. The synths do still buzz occasionally — albeit less frantically — but the textures are more varied, as heard in “Language City” or the swirling, snare-happy, waltzing opener, “Soldier’s Grin.” The pacing is impeccable throughout, not only in the sequencing, but in the individual tracks as well. Centerpiece “California Dreamer” breathes and swells with almost prog dynamics until it builds to its stomping, singalong chorus of “I thought I might have heard you on the radio, but the radio waves are like snow,” and 11-minute album closer “Kissing the Beehive” (the original title of the record) all but gives out completely before bringing everything back for a quick encore. All in all, At Mount Zoomer is a remarkable achievement for such a young buzz band.