Wolf Parade Keeps Howling into the Void

Aided by their invisible “fourth member,” Wolf Parade succeed despite their differences

Wolf Parade should not work.

The British Columbia band — now entering its 17th year of existence — is led by the dichotomous duo of synth and keyboard player Spencer Krug and guitarist Dan Boeckner. Krug pens byzantine, twisting songs, full of opaque references to internal struggles and fantastical landscapes, whereas Boeckner revels in direct, anthemic creations, preferring to hit listeners in the gut and heart with rebellious rock numbers or soaring dance tracks. And then there is drummer Arlen Thompson, the beating pulse of the band, who is simultaneously tasked with being the disciplined conductor and the maniac behind the wheel, often in the same song.   

So how is it that, on the eve of the band’s fifth full-length album, Thin Mind, Wolf Parade are seemingly stronger than ever? How is this unwieldy creation, brimming with contradictions and artistic chasms, still succeeding after all these years?

Krug has a theory. He credits a spectral, pseudonymous presence for the enduring success of the band — an ephemeral answer to the superficial inconsistencies in the group’s dynamic.

“We have this kind of inside joke, that there is another member of the band that is Wolf Parade,” says Krug, whose group will play at the Fillmore on Jan. 29. “There is just a certain Wolf Parade-ness that only happens when the three of us are playing together. There is this other thing in the room, and we don’t know where it comes from or why, but it’s how we balance out, reach [each] other’s energy, and how we end up with the sound of Wolf Parade.”

Mr. Wolf Parade’s assistance is how a band can somehow be prog and punk, terse and labyrinthine, political and apolitical. That transient force is how the band has defied expectations and maintained a cohesive, distinct sound, despite the host of other projects that Krug and Boeckner have been involved in over the years, which include Sunset Rubdown, Operators, Handsome Furs, and the Divine Fits.

That the band is still around is a blessing to many. After announcing themselves in 2005 with the genre-defining, indie rock masterpiece Apologies to the Queen Mary (a top-10 album of this century), Wolf Parade followed with two underrated gems in At Mount Zoomer and Expo 86, but in 2010, the group embarked on an indefinite hiatus, sparking rumors that it would be breaking up.

“There was a very real possibility that the band was done,” says Krug. “Everyone wanted to get away for a while because I think we instinctively knew our next record was going to be a shitty one.”

Fortunately, Wolf Parade is genetically immune to making shitty records, so when the band emerged after six years of inactivity, they came back with two dazzling albums — 2016’s self-titled EP and 2017’s politically-charged Cry Cry Cry. The early returns on Thin Mind — set to be released on Jan. 24 — indicate that the band’s peerless discography will remain intact.

The group’s most recent single from that album is a pounding, effusive art-pop ditty by Krug called “Julia Take Your Man Home” (Julia is a recurring name in Krug’s catalog, although he won’t comment on her specifics, other than to say she’s a real person and her name has a nicely phonetic three-syllable sound). Krug describes writing the song from the perspective of his “worst possible self,” an exercise he says is cathartic.

“Against the Day,” another single from the album, is the rare beast in the Wolf Parade catalog that features lead vocals from both Krug and Boeckner. Krug says the band would love to include more dual-vocal tracks in its repertoire, but he and Boeckner don’t write lyrics for each other, and their own words are usually intensely personal.  

“For us to both sing on the same song, it involves a discussion about lyrics that we rarely ever have, because lyrics are this sacred holy ground that are kind of untouchable by other members,” Krug says.

“Against the Day” came together because a particular segue sounded perfect for his voice, which is a warbly, trembling instrument, according to Krug. Boeckner told Krug that the song was about two vampires walking around on earth, commenting on what the world has turned into.

“So that was easy,” Krug says. “I wrote about the point of view of one vampire, and Dan wrote about the point of view of the other.”

Blood-sucking narratives aside, Krug said most of the songs on Thin Mind explore the limitless distractions brought on by a digital world, where the latest technological advances erode the appreciation for the everyday (hence the title reference). Although not a luddite (at least not now anyway), Krug misses the days when he could hole up in his home and concentrate solely on the tasks at hand.

“I didn’t have an email address until I was 28 and I didn’t have a phone until I was 30,” says Krug, who is now 42. “When I was a kid living in Montreal, I would just play music for hours and hours by myself. And now, I’m trying to re-learn some old songs for the tour, and I can’t go 30 minutes without embarking on some Twitter barrage. I need to have a few glasses of wine just to calm my brain down.”

While not as overtly political as Cry Cry Cry — an album written while everything fell apart (for the first time) in 2016 — Thin Mind explores the significant disconnects between the digital and real world. Krug talked about how nothing has changed since the group’s last album — politicians are still lying, the earth is still burning, and children are still being locked in cages — despite the collective outrage that brews every day on Twitter. The void may now include millions of voices from the interconnected digital landscape, but it is still the void. The screams always disappear, no matter the level of online amplification.

In many ways, the sonic makeup of the album mirrors its lyrical content. Following the departure of longtime bassist Dante DeCaro, the band is now a trio for the first time since their early days. Krug is replacing DeCaro’s bassline parts with the low-end keys, creating a more synthetic sound.

“The album is definitely more electronic, which I think is cool because it goes with the theme,” says Krug. “We really can’t escape technology.”

Perhaps that’s why the band depends more than ever on their invisible lupine companion for guidance. If you cannot find solace in the Twitterverse and Earth isn’t doing too much for you either, maybe the only reprieve comes in the form of an imaginary creature, who howls away the doubts. It’s probably not the solution for all of today’s problems, but it seems to be working damn well for making music.

Wolf Parade with Land of Talk,

 Wednesday, Jan. 29, 8 p.m., at the Fillmore. $35; thefillmore.com

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