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Review: Wolf Parade are back and great as ever on ‘Cry Cry Cry’

Wolf Parade Cry Cry Cry

Wolf Parade‘s co-frontmen Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner were anything but inactive in the time since the band’s 2010 album Expo 86 and the hiatus that followed. They toured and made albums with Moonface, Operators, Divine Fits, and Handsome Furs, and those projects did a pretty good job of filling Wolf Parade’s void. But when they finally reunited last year, it was a major reminder that there’s nothing quite like when Spencer and Dan come together. Spencer’s quirk and Dan’s more straight-ahead style balance each other out brilliantly, and they always sound great singing on each other’s songs. That’s been clear at the live shows and on the four-song EP they released last year, but it’s clearer than ever on Cry Cry Cry, their first proper album in seven years and one that really says “we’re back!”

Expo 86 was banged out pretty quickly for Wolf Parade’s standards, and it had more of a raw rock edge than their previous two albums. It’s great in its own right and it remains home to many of the band’s best songs, but Cry Cry Cry returns to the style that Wolf Parade began working with on their instant-classic 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary. And it doesn’t feel pandering or trying to evoke nostalgia; it sounds really organic, like these were just the songs that came out when Spencer and Dan (and Dante DeCaro and Arlen Thompson) started writing together again. It’s also a tight, cohesive album, trimmed of all fat. It has the same amount of songs as Expo 86 but it’s six minutes shorter. Some songs are better than others, but there’s nothing worth skipping.

Cry Cry Cry really has just about every kind of song you’d want from a great Wolf Parade album. “You’re Dreaming” is one of Dan Boeckner’s finest driving, Springsteenian rockers, with a two-word chorus that reminds you how much Dan can excel when he takes a less-is-more approach. “Valley Boy” is Spencer Krug’s most singalong-ready song on the album, and it comes with one of his tongue-twister choruses: “Are you still a lover boy? / Are you still on the cover or / Did you become a valley boy out there?” They don’t have anything as colossal as the proggy At Mount Zoomer closer “Kissing The Beehive,” but they do a great job flaunting their prog tendencies on “Baby Blue,” which has Arlen providing the same kind of hypnotic backbone that “Beehive” has. The horn jabs make for a nice touch too. The slowed-down second half of “Weaponized” also has a little climactic jamming in there, and it’s not exactly what you’d expect from the song’s first half, which has Dan’s late ’70s post-punk worship in fine form. On “Who Are Ya,” Spencer’s quirk is at a high, and he takes Wolf Parade closer to whimsical ’60s psych-pop territory than they’ve ever been before. When those dizzying keyboards come in, it’ll take you right back to the Summer of Love.

The most powerful song on the album — as far as I’m concerned — is the Dan Boeckner-led ballad “Flies on the Sun.” As the member who excels the most at fast rock songs (like “You’re Dreaming,” the first half of “Weaponized” and also the addictive, penultimate track “Artificial Life”), it’s both surprising and thrilling that his best song in years is a ballad. He’s got a yearning delivery in the verses, backed by swaying rhythms, simple piano, and some Modest Mouse-y guitar bends. It’s a nice, get-your-lighters-out moment, but it’s not until the chorus where the song really swings for the fences. It switches from pleasant chord changes to tension-inducing ones, and when Spencer brings his quavering harmonies in behind Dan on the “time is a weapon that had us all clocked” line, it makes for the kind of blissful moment you can only have when those two sing together.

Cry Cry Cry is more than a satisfying treat for the fans who stayed loyal during the seven-year hiatus though. In the time since Wolf Parade have been gone, it’s become clear that present-day indie rock still needs a band like Wolf Parade. In their breakout era, it was the norm for indie rock bands to have pop appeal, an experimental side, and also really rock in the traditional sense. Those things have sort of separated in recent years. The popular indie bands tend to ditch most elements of “rock,” while a subset of punky indie bands emerged who keep push-pits alive but usually steer clear of the brainy pop stuff. The absence of albums like Apologies to the Queen Mary has been felt. There have been a few great ones by newer, smaller bands at the fringes of indie rock (Harmlessness, LOSE, Smidley), and a good amount of Wolf Parade’s peers have put out great likeminded albums this year (Broken Social Scene, The New Pornographers, Los Campesinos!), but Wolf Parade have a touch that still hasn’t been fully replicated. They remain a smart, inventive band and they still let themselves rock out like kids making noise in the basement. With Cry Cry Cry being released into the world in 2017, it no longer feels right to say that this kind of indie rock is missing.

Cry Cry Cry comes out Friday (10/6) via Sub Pop. Until then, you can stream it on NPR.

Also, catch Wolf Parade on tour.

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