Published on January 30th, 2020 | by Noah Dimitrie0
Wolf Parade – Thin Mind
Wolf Parade’s ‘Thin Mind,’ still sounds big, even with the loss of multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro. The remaining trio has used change to push them forward.
Lately, it’s been a cliché to crown every record that even remotely feels doomy and gloomy as “important.” The current political landscape has made it almost too easy for critics and fans alike to project their own angst with the status quo onto just about anything. And I get it; music has in inherent dimension of obtuseness. It’s built into the medium, allowing listeners to possess the art in ways other art forms can’t quite deliver. It’s part of what makes it such an exciting but hyper-subjective form of expression. I guess what I’m saying is that I can’t help but feel self-conscious about this upcoming rave of mine. I feel like a hack. Because the new record from Canadian indie rock stalwarts Wolf Parade is about as exciting and relatable a portrait of existential and political angst I’ve heard from an alternative band in quite a while.
Maybe I’m just a sucker for this kind of subject matter bottled up into a catchy rock record. For most, indie rock in general is associated with quaintness over provocation. For every Arcade Fire, there’s ten wannabes that over-saturate the playing field with generic, frumpy rock fit for a Kia commercial. But I still get excited by it; I haven’t built up a tolerance, and at this point, I think I never will. Yet even I can admit capital-I Indie rock ain’t what it used to be. Even while hipsters like me are still jamming to the latest Phoenix song or whatever, even we can recognize that there is a resounding and politically prescient lightning-in-a-bottle sound in Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot it In People or Arcade Fire’s Funeral that has found its way into other genres, other scenes by now.
And if anyone should understand that, it’s Wolf Parade. The Montreal outfit released a modern classic fifteen years ago entitled Apologies to the Queen Mary that, while being a debut for the band, felt like an assured and propulsive victory lap for indie rock’s mid-aughts moment. In the fifteen years since its release, Wolf Parade has made some incredible music and spurned a number of interesting side projects from its various members such as Divine Fits and Sunset Rubdown. But as a band they never quite followed up on the trajectory many critics at the time had them pegged for. The quality of music was there, but the indie rock world had developed too much of a next-man-up ADD by the time they delivered their follow up On Mount Zoomer. After a long hiatus, the band returned two years ago with the enjoyable but undercooked Cry, Cry, Cry. The album surely satiated Parade fans’ desire for more music yet seemed to prove the indie rock haters right; it had the feeling of a band past its prime, pushing for a freshness that just wasn’t there. While there were some solid tunes on it, it felt like an extended jam-session, variations on a familiar theme.
But thankfully, even miraculously one could argue, Wolf Parade has resurrected itself with their new record Thin Mind. They have self-actualized with a matured but hungry ethos, proving that indie rock might not have moved on from us as much as we moved on from it. All the band’s regular calling cards are here—the smashing percussion, loopy, dynamic synths, and infectious guitar melodies. The band hasn’t completely re-invented themselves. Rather, they have proven that they never needed to. All they needed was to find some of that angst, some of that intensity as raw and exciting as it was on Apologies. With Thin Mind, they find it in spades, fully absorbing the shameless destruction of our current time into their frenetic and enchantingly anthemic sound.
This time around, they get back to that chaotic, punky sound but throw in some new bells and whistles that just add to the dimension and originality of the record. Dan Boeckner’s baselines are subtly reminiscent of old school funk and disco, adding a kind of circular bounciness to the songs that just feels right. Additionally, the production is a lot more ambitious. As opposed to Cry, Cry, Cry, they do not cower from expressive idiosyncrasies. Fall Into the Future is this loopy, acid trip of a song, complete with thrumming keys that conjure the mental image of a rave that has worn out its welcome. The band doubles down on their synth instrumentation as well, crafting angular arpeggiations that take center stage in their biggest and most bashful singles, Forest Green and Against the Day. The arrangements are always rapturous, the instruments always feel as thought they are being pushed to their breaking point. The band just feels rejuvenated, as if it took fifteen years to quantify what made their debut so original. That originality is channeled on Thin Mind, but is punctuated with a maturity, a hindsight that is utilized just enough to be “classic Wolf Parade.” If Apologies was the Wolf Parade album for your twenties, this new record is their album for middle age.
Yet, while their signature sound has made a refreshing comeback, it’s the potent and dynamic song writing that truly makes the record great. Under Glass opens the album with probably the band’s most predictable melody, a quintessentially Wolf Parade tune that would feel meager compares the album’s other tracks if it weren’t for the prescient hook, “Nobody knows what they want anymore!” Boeckner screams it like it’s a thesis statement. And in fact, as the album moves to its singles Forest Green and Julia Take Your Man Home, that hook is elucidated. The former is an odyssey into apocalyptic, Anthropocene-induced lamentation, painting a portrait that is awfully similar to the album’s busy artwork. The latter takes a look at alcoholism and despair, channeling personal demons as a response to the depressing state of things. Out of Control and Static Age flow nicely from Julia, following through on the anxiety propelled earlier on. “I don’t want to live in a static age,” Boeckner rants, “…living in a world where nothing changes.” Yet, the trajectory of the band’s despair is complemented by its chaotic aesthetic energy, engaging with dread but finding lively ways to illustrate it, almost as an act of resistance.
The centrepiece of the record is a unique Spencer Krug jam, Be As Kind As You Can—a track that doesn’t quite fit the cogent path the album had been following but is nevertheless an admirable left-turn. The track stops the album dead in its tracks to tell a parable about a shotgun wedding and the titular proverb scrawled “on the commissioner’s hand.” It’s a peculiar parable to unweave at this point, but one that fully sees its potential through, culminating in a rapturous and hard-hitting crescendo that underlies its message perfectly. It’s an impressive piece in a self-contained way, but I couldn’t help but feel that it would’ve been better suited as the album closer, as it feels like such a clincher to the album’s philosophy. This becomes especially evident as the album goes into its excellent final stretch. Wandering Son, Against the Day, and Town Square offer a glimpse of optimism, or at least humanism, in the face of the despair so eloquently proffered earlier. “All we are is reaching for the light,” screams Krug, offering up hope that, even if things get darker, we still have that universal human drive to “reach for the light,” to find meaning in the mayhem, to retain a humanism in the face of the Machine.
Ultimately, the album is super-charged with the kind of resounding and poignant indie rock ethos of yesteryear. Its songs are striking, the lyrics bold and memorable and the hooks catchy but unforced. The album is structured like an essay on the human condition, but for the most part, avoids feeling preachy or overwrought. It’s a crash-course in the modern age, packaged as anthem after anthem of acerbic ennui. In a way only indie rock can deliver, Wolf Parade’s message sinks under your skin, adding up to more than the sum of its stellar parts. This is what it feels when rock is conscious, living and breathing emotions that only drums and guitar can trigger.
It’s turned me into a corny fanatic. For once, I can actually see an undeniable political edge that really means something, that truly invites the kind of hackneyed critical hyperbole I’ve come to despise. Maybe I’m just a sucker; maybe I’ve become the very thing I hate. But when I hear this album, I can’t ignore the ways it makes me feel so alive through its intoxicating rendering of the modern condition. Thin Mind is inescapable and that, in and of itself, gives me hope for the sub-genre I love.