Given our involvement in two disastrous wars, the cabal of neoconservative troglodytes who ran the country, and the racial inequities of the destruction Hurricane Katrina wrought, it seems strange to label 2005 as a year when things were simpler. Yet, in these Trumpian end-of-days, any older tragedy looks good with the benefit of context.
It was during these relatively auspicious days of 2005 that Wolf Parade first emerged, standing out among a crowded pack of indie-rock bands by harnessing the unique talents of its two divergent songwriters, Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner.
The Montrealites’ debut album, Apologies of Queen Mary, is a towering masterpiece, and 12 years later, it still stands as one of the best records to emerge from the indie rock heyday of the early aughts. Oscillating seamlessly between heart-on-their-sleeve punk and exploratory prog-rock, Wolf Parade found that perfect balance between DIY and avant-garde.
While the songs evoked vivid scenes of unrest and turmoil, Apologies largely steered clear of the matters of the day, focusing more on the personal than the political. Their two follow-up albums, At Mount Zoomer and Expo 86, followed that same template, with the band eschewing direct discourse on dysfunctional politics. In 2010, Wolf Parade announced it was going on hiatus, ostensibly sealing its fate as a group without a grand political statement.
In 2017, with hate, bigotry, and insularity on the rise, a group with little history of overt partisan speech no longer has the luxury of staying mum while the world burns. In this environment, Wolf Parade released its first LP in seven years, Cry Cry Cry. The record contains every sonic hallmark of Wolf Parade. But this time the focus shifts from inward to outward, on what is easily the group’s most political offering.
“Spencer and I independently came in with lyrics for this album, and realized that we were both writing about the same thing,” says Boeckner, the group’s guitarist and vocalist. “We were thinking that this is the dumpster fire — the end of neoliberal capitalism and a functioning democracy in North America. Just fascist creep everywhere, basically.”
So yeah, not exactly small-talk lyrics.
Cry Cry Cry is imbued with rallying cries for dissidence, but unlike other political albums, the record never feels preachy or pious. Instead, the underpinning atmosphere of defiance gives Cry Cry Cry a special kind of desperate urgency.
Most of that nervous energy comes from Boeckner, whose contributions to the album amount to a call to arms, pleading with people to snap out of the apathy and somnolence of everyday life. There is a lyrical thread to his songs, with several tracks referring to dreaming, sleeping, and distant memories.
“I see so much discourse being played out online, where it’s really, really hard to affect any kind of political change,” Boeckner says. “You can raise awareness about some things, and you can polarize people — but in a way, there is a built-in pressure valve for outrage. So people spew their anger, or prop up others who they agree with, and then we all log off and are like, ‘OK, I’m done, I’m going to get a fucking sandwich or watch Stranger Things or read a book or whatever.’ There is this kind of dream world where we can play at affecting change.”
Boeckner noticed much of this disconnect while living in San Jose and Milpitas. His neighbors there said all the right things online, but seemed severed from the everyday events surrounding them, particularly when it came to the stark class divide emerging in ostensibly progressive Silicon Valley. His experiences there convinced him that real political change must start first at the local level.
“Vote in your municipal elections,” says Boeckner. “Get to know your neighbors.”
That kind of blunt political talk can be found in Cry Cry Cry tracks such as “You’re Dreaming,” “Incantation,” and “Flies on the Sun.” On those tunes, an exasperated Boeckner practically begs for people to snap out of it, buoyed as always by his shifty, post-punk guitar stylings. Even Krug, more known for his fantastical, erudite approach to lyric writing, penned a few protest tracks for the album — including its fire-breathing closer, “King of Piss and Paper,” which contains blistering lines like, “When the king is made of paper / And the king is made of piss / The king is coming down the fucking wall.”
Boeckner and Krug might strike a mordant tone when discussing the state of politics today — although who fucking doesn’t? — but that attitude takes nothing away from the euphoric experience of watching Wolf Parade perform.
The band’s time off has done nothing to dim its fierce energy. The center of gravity alternates between Boeckner’s anthemic guitar-based passion plays and Krug’s brainy, cerebral keyboard creations. For years, the group’s narrative was based around the dichotomy of Boeckner’s Springsteen-esque, working-man ethos and Krug’s boundless nerd-rock tendencies, but now the two songwriters are showing an instinct to borrow motifs from one another.
“We always talk about how Spencer’s songs are like the head of a stag, with antlers sprouting up on either side, whereas if I write a song, it’s more of a triangle,” Boeckner says. “I think with this album, I kind of took Spencer’s stag’s-head approach to songwriting, and he learned a little brevity from me.”
Having a unified front is necessary these days. In many ways, 2017 was a throwback year, with indie luminaries like Broken Social Scene, Grizzly Bear, and The National all releasing albums after extended absences. And like Wolf Parade, those groups all took on an unusually acute political bent. Boeckner’s assessment about the world today — that it is one big dumpster fire — might be right. But words can be powerful weapons, and Wolf Parade’s music helps douse those odiferous flames.
Wolf Parade with Charly Bliss, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 8 p.m., at the Fillmore. $35; thefillmore.com, and Wednesday, Jan. 17, 8 p.m., at UC Berkeley Theater. $35; theuctheatre.org
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