Album: Expo 86
Label: Sub Pop
Release date: June 29
Rating (Skip, Stream, or Buy): Buy
Download: "Ghost Pressure"
Wolf Parade released two tracks from their third record, Expo 86, early on as a preview of their newest work. "What Did My Lover Say?" and "Ghost Pressure" are both stellar songs with all the familiar Wolf Parade trademarks -- foot-stomping tempos with squealing guitars, dramatic synths, bluesy vocals, and whipping percussion. "Ghost Pressure," in particular, has an irresistibly catchy chorus -- a fluid synth line plays as frontman Dan Boeckner pleadingly sings, "little vision, come shake me up, shake me up."
It's a little disconcerting, then, that not all of Expo 86 quite lives up to those songs' promises. Wolf Parade is one of the most exciting, consistently quality bands on the current Sub Pop lineup, but on first listen Expo 86 seems less ambitious and cohesive than their excellent first two efforts, 2005's Apologies to the Queen Mary and 2008's At Mount Zoomer. The band's unique sound has always come from their blunt instrumentation and their ability to somehow turn clunky into melodic. But songs like "Palm Road" are meandering and formless; others, like "Little Golden Age," start, sputter, and never pick up. And some are disappointing for other reasons -- "Cloud Shadow on the Mountain" is super-hooky and could have made for an explosive album opener if it weren't for the weird/stupid lyrics -- "You've gotta jump, jump over the island like a gazelle/ You've gotta jump over the island like a new long-legged gazelle." (Lyrics don't necessarily make or break a record for me, but it's hard to get behind lines like, "I had a vision of a gorilla/ He was a killer, a killer.")
Expo 86 is by no means a failed record though -- it just takes a few listens to take hold. There are plenty of standout tracks, and where it shines, it does so brightly. "Pobody's Nerfect" is galloping and features some killer guitar interludes, and "Yulia" is Expo 86's "Shine a Light" -- warm, wistful, with beautifully harmonized vocals and even a guitar solo (who does guitar solos anymore?). It's one of the best songs Wolf Parade has written. In the end, "Yulia," "Ghost Pressure," "What Did My Lover Say?," and a few others are just good enough to weigh out the record's more lackluster tracks.