Quite a lot has happened in the world since Canadian rockers Wolf Parade last released a record.
In the time since 2010’s Expo 86, the quartet fronted by Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner has lent their talents to a number of other bands, from Krug’s solo project Moonface to Boeckner’s role as a principal member of Operators and Divine Fits. Still, despite a seven-year hiatus, both have now returned to the group that first announced itself with a flurry of guitars and yelps on 2005’s Apologies To The Queen Mary.
The result is Cry Cry Cry, a new album of tightly-crafted tracks that contrast ebullient melodies with lyrical longing and dread. Speaking by phone, Boeckner acknowledges that trimming the fat was a key concern when he reunited with Krug, drummer Arlen Thompson, and multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro last December.“I think those exact words got thrown around in the rehearsal space,” he says. “We don’t ever sit down and ask what the aesthetic vibe of a record is going to be, but we definitely talk about the mechanics of songwriting in reaction to whatever we did before.”
In the case of Cry Cry Cry, that meant looking back at Expo 86, an album Boeckner describes as “a real exercise in riffage.” While Wolf Parade’s latest does feature two lengthy jams at the center of its eleven tracks, the overall product is largely refined, a record that harkens back to the band’s debut release.
“In retrospect, this is the record that would’ve been a more logical follow-up to Apologies,” Boeckner suggests. “But I think after Apologies came out, our subsequent two records were really just a reaction to public reaction. I think the band maybe had an existential crisis. I’m not saying At Mount Zoomer and Expo weren’t totally valid expressions of art, but I think that existential crisis informed the type of songs that we were writing.”
On their new album, Wolf Parade responded to something very different: the pervading sense of disquiet that gripped much of the world following the U.S. general election last November. When the band hit the studio in December 2016 to record Cry Cry Cry, those widespread feelings of anxiety and fear came with them.
You can hear it on a song like “Incantation,” a Boeckner-penned piano stomper that finds him offering a bleak counterpoint to the WWII British axiom to “keep calm and carry on.” In discussing with Krug how best to address politics on Cry Cry Cry, Boeckner says the two turned to the work of Leonard Cohen as a guiding principle.
“His stuff stands the test of time more than his 1960s contemporaries,” Boeckner explains. “Because he managed to not be totally on the nose about things, but you know what he’s talking about.” In fact, Krug’s “Valley Boy” is an outright tribute to Cohen, wondering whether the songwriting luminary perhaps left just in the nick of time. Overall, it’s not difficult to see what has fed the fires of Wolf Parade’s musical chaos on Cry Cry Cry.
“You’re Dreaming” carries dark undertones amidst its boisterous synth and cheerful guitars. Boeckner points to the line “I’m up all night with the Century Ghosts” as an example of the subtle ways the band grapples with current events without directly addressing them. He says the line came about in part due to what he was reading at the time.
“I spent a lot of time in November and December of 2016 reading about the rise of fascism in Italy,” he says. “The ‘Century Ghosts’ I was referring to are the ghosts of fascism and the populist, isolationist, and nationalist movements everybody seems to have collectively forgotten about.” Boeckner notes that while in the past, these movements were met with widespread outrage, nowadays such reactions are nearly non-existent.
“America was deeply anti-Nazi. If you look at comic book culture, there were these people writing about superheroes that beat the shit out of Nazis. That’s what children were reading. It was the war effort. I mean, it was propaganda, but in a way it was a beautiful type of propaganda. I feel like those lessons have now been forgotten.”
Of course, politics aren’t the only thing that helped give Cry Cry Cry its form. Boeckner is quick to admit that working with Spoon’s Britt Daniel in the band Divine Fits paid major dividends to his songwriting process. “I don’t mind saying that all,” he laughs. “Writing those songs with Britt in Los Angeles was like a masterclass in minimalism.”
Boeckner says he’s followed Daniel’s work since he was in high school and Spoon “still kind of sounded like The Pixies.” When the two got together in late 2011 to make A Thing Called Divine Fits, Boeckner was given a rare first-hand view of how Daniel works.
“I learned how to access this part of songwriting that I had always wanted to convey but never really had the tools to do it,” he recalls. “It’s like this merciless stripping out of extraneous shit. Britt has another pretty cool method that I would’ve never found on my own, which is where you have these chunks — like a verse and a chorus — and you just keep layering stuff over it. Eventually what happens is you strip out the original information and you’re left with all these happy accidents, and that becomes the song. I’ve now worked that into my songwriting process too.”
Daniel’s influence as a meticulous songwriter may be part of the reason many of the tracks on Cry Cry Cry don’t clock in at over five minutes, but true to his roots, it’s the two songs that do — “Baby Blue” and “Weaponized” — that are closest to Boeckner’s heart.
“With [Cry Cry Cry], we thought, ‘Ok, let’s trim everything away,’” he says. “Everything that wasn’t useful in a song was pretty much immediately discarded. And then, because we’re ourselves, we ended up with two fairly long prog songs, which are kind of my favorite songs on the whole record.”
For anyone who has seen Wolf Parade perform, it is these longer, less structured explosions of sound that really bring the band alive.
“That’s the kind of stuff we like to play live,” Boeckner confirms. “Over the years, stuff like “Kissing The Beehive” or “California Dreamer” or “Fine Young Cannibals” have always been the songs that we look forward to playing when they’re in a setlist. It’s nice to not just be a band that writes short, compact pop songs. It’s nice to be able to flex on stage a little bit.”
So how does one define Wolf Parade? Are they but one project of two prolific and talented songwriters or the central glue that will forever bind Boeckner and Krug together? Are they expansive rockers or detailed pop auteurs? Are they back for good following their lengthy hiatus or fated to once again retreat to hibernation? According to Boeckner, it’s simple: All of the above.
“We’re a weird band. We’ve had a lot of conversations internally about how our band doesn’t really fit in anywhere. We’re just a bunch of weirdos. I think the difference between Wolf Parade now and Wolf Parade back then is that now we’re comfortable with it. We’re more confident in it, in a way. We’re proud of it.”
Cry Cry Cry is out now via Sub Pop. Get it here.