Wolf Parade is a two-part force of nature. On one end, you have the gritty guitarist Dan Boeckner. And on the other end, you have the quirky keyboardist Spencer Krug. Both have played in numerous side projects (Divine Fits, Handsome Furs, Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake), but when teamed up, they are pretty amazing.
The Canadian indie rock group’s first two albums, 2005’s Apologies to the Queen Mary and 2008’s At Mount Zoomer, are exceptional and easily two of my favorite albums by any band.
Wolf Parade (now as a trio, with Arlen Thompson on drums) has returned, with the very organic-sounding Thin Mind, the band’s fifth album. Wolf Parade’s debut album was very tight. Quick songs that got down to business, kicked you in the face, and then they’re over. Mount Zoomer pushed boundaries and broke the rules (especially with tracks like “Fine Young Cannibals” and “Kissing the Beehive”) but still had a similar attitude.
But with Thin Mind, I feel like Wolf Parade is letting their hair down a bit. I’m not sure if it’s the album cover art or what, but I get a very “adventure through the jungle” vibe from this album. Wolf Parade lets the songs breathe and explore, jamming out an extra minute or so than I would expect from previous albums.
Thin Mind is definitely different than early Wolf Parade. But I really like it.
Album opener “Under Glass,” a Boeckner tune, starts things off addressing trying to live through the craziness that is today’s world. Giving off vibes of being trapped, Boeckner sings, “We’re under the glass again and now I can’t remember how life was outside, on the outside.” Political divisiveness and evil in the world have basically poisoned our minds. “Nobody knows what they want anymore.” A solid, opening to the album, “Under Glass” musically sounds like classic Wolf Parade.
But then we step into that jungle.
The next song, and Krug’s first of the album, “Julia Take Your Man Home” is the first song that really grabbed me on Thin Mind. I love the interplay between Boeckner’s guitar and Krug keyboard during the chorus: “Julia, take your man home/Lay him down on a bed of thorns/And I’ve got a feeling he’ll say, ‘Sorry’/Come tomorrow morning.” And then the dark breakdown during the bridge: “When I asked him if he needed to go home/He said, ‘The beating heart of a lonely man is/Nothing but an unheard decrescendo.'” It’s Wolf Parade at its best.
The lyrics actually remind me of something we’d see from The National, about this fictional narrator, who is drunk and ashamed of himself and doesn’t deserve Julia. At first I thought Krug was singing about some other man at the bar, but I think he’s singing about himself (or at least the “narrator” of this scene). So far, this is one of two songs on Thin Mind that I find myself listening to on repeat, over and over again.
The jungle/nature feeling is obvious on “Forest Green.” It has an upbeat rhythm, like being chased through a cursed land but that still “feels like home.” Again, the interplay between keys and guitar (and the drums) is something to behold in this one.
“Forest Green” gives us the first example of an unexpected jam, featured in the final minute and a half of the song. It easily could have faded out after 10 or 15 seconds, but Wolf Parade keeps the energy going—pushing the boundaries. We’ll see more of this throughout the album, and it’s something that I was pleasantly surprised about. The band lets things flow to see where the music takes them.
Another great jam is featured at the end of “Static Age,” a song with elements that seem to come from a fantasy kingdom. With more hinting at living through a bleak world, “Static Age,” ends with a feeling of hope: “We can begin again/Oh, oh we can begin again,” before ending with that explosive jam. Not as extended as the “Forest Green” ending, but still very powerful.
The song slips with a seamless transition into the next song, “As Kind as You Can.” This is an interesting tune, telling three separate stories that all end with the same simple message: “be as kind as you can.” It features that distinctive Krug twist on a song and fits perfectly with the following tune, also by Krug and the first time Wolf Parade breaks the Boeckner-Krug alternating vocals pattern on the album.
“Wandering Son” is the other song I can’t get out of my head. It’s haunting, about floating through life, almost ghostlike. “All our days will wash away like tears in rain,” Boeckner sings at the end of the song. Again, “Wandering Son” ends with an exclamation point. Wolf Parade charges on toward the finale, extending this dark, empty feeling and pushing on a little further than may be expected. And it really works effectively.
I nerd out when we get vocals from both Boeckner and Krug on the same song, and that occurs on “Against the Day.” I believe this is the first time this has happened since “Kissing the Beehive” on At Mount Zoomer. For this reason alone, this becomes one of the highlights of the album.
“Town Square” ends the album with a consistent theme: feeling isolated from the world because of technology. “All we are is reaching for the light.” It’s a cry for an escape to a simpler time. Once again, the song features an extended jam near the end, this one the most improvisational on the album, building to a strong finish.
On first listen, I thought Thin Mind was solid but with few standout moments. The more I listen to it, the more I enjoy it. It may not be as good as Apologies or Mount Zoomer, but I think it holds up well with those albums. And I look forward to continuing to the epic journey that is Thin Mind.