Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock, arguably the reigning prime minister of indie rock, produced most of Wolf Parade's first album, Apologies to the Queen Mary. Though the album won a rave review from Pitchfork and catapulted the band into the, um, underground rock stratosphere, something was off.
Many noted its strong similarities to Modest Mouse's sound, and co-frontman Spencer Krug now describes it in even harsher terms. "I listen to some of those songs off Apologies to the Queen Mary and I'm like, 'I can't believe I wrote them,'" he says, speaking by phone while watering his plants at his home in Montreal. "I don't even know where I started. Some of them are so convoluted, I have no idea what I was doing."
Although he has nothing but kind things to say about the work of Brock – who also signed the band to Sub Pop in 2004 – he opines that using an outside producer wasn't the best strategy. "We probably just weren't ready to work with anyone at that point," he says, adding that other factors kept the tracks from gelling. "Apologies to the Queen Mary was made up of songs that were written over a period of two, two-and-a-half years.... It felt sort of disparate to us."
So for their recently released second full-length album, At Mount Zoomer, they crafted all the songs in a short period of time, and each of the band members contributed to the production and mixing processes. Drummer Arlen Thompson served as the engineer. "This one was less stressful, because we took our time doing [the production]," Krug says.
Recorded last summer, the work came together mostly as the result of a series of jam sessions held at Petite Église, the Quebec church on the outskirts of Montreal owned by the band's more famous countryfolk, Arcade Fire. But as opposed to the stately sonic set piece that was Arcade Fire's last album, Neon Bible, At Mount Zoomer feels more spontaneous, even a bit sloppy at times.
It creates a proggy, blissful aesthetic that makes At Mount Zoomer feel like it belongs on a shelf next to, say, Jethro Tull rather than Arcade Fire.
The album is anchored by a pair of epic, guitar-god tracks. "California Dreamer" is a response to the Mamas & the Papas' 1965 hit "California Dreamin'" told from the perspective of the female lover left behind. Then there's "Kissing the Beehive," the album's 11-minute closer that recalls Neil Young at his most focused and existential.
Other highlights include "Soldier's Grin" and "Call It a Ritual," the latter penned and sung by Krug, and the former courtesy of the group's other frontman, Dan Boeckner, who plays lead guitar. Like on Apologies to the Queen Mary, the pair's songs more or less alternate on the album, but At Mount Zoomer more successfully blends the sounds into a single aesthetic.
That's no small task, as the men have profoundly different instincts. The more esoteric sounds of Krug's side project Sunset Rubdown stand in stark contrast to the straight-ahead rock/pop focus of Boeckner's band Handsome Furs, which he plays in with his wife, Alexei Perry, and is also signed to Sub Pop.
It turns out a uniting influence was '60s and '70s radio rock. "[My stepfather] was the first person I knew who had a record collection," Krug says. "But he's like 10 years younger than my mother, so his era was like the mid- to late '70s/early '80s. He had a lot of typical stuff [from then], like Supertramp, who I remember really liking when I was like 8 years old. I also liked Queen and Zeppelin and the usual kind of crap – Pink Floyd, Heart, Blondie."
His older sister eventually staged a musical intervention. "She wanted me to be cool so she made me mixtapes of the Sugarcubes, and the Pixies, They Might Be Giants, Violent Femmes and all kinds of '80s kooky, alternative music."
But the progressive rock nonetheless stayed with him. It seems that despite his sister's and Isaac Brock's best attempts to make him hip, Krug is at heart a man happily behind the times. There's something refreshing about that, and it surely helps make At Mount Zoomer a thing of beauty.