Apologies to the Queen Mary
(Sub Pop; 2005)
By Aaron Newell | 21 September 2005
“Each song is either a seismic death rattle or aftershock.”
I wrote that last night thinking “how can I use fluid, imagery-rich language to describe this record without discrediting myself by sounding like a hyperbolic flowery twit.” My obvious problem here is that the average monumental cokemachineglow piece (yes, intended) always walks the line between kitten-kicking cruelty directed at dickwad musicians, and sainthood nominations for dickwad musicians. Generally, both are fast-tracks to twitdom for the writer, which is why you all come back to watch us fall off the jungle gym week after week. So, because questionable writing is relative (perhaps why my deadline for this got bumped ahead by a week), I went surfing around to see what the status quo was for writing about indie rock’s newest pre-album supergroup. So I could just inch over it. In doing so I realized: weird things have been said about Wolf Parade.
For example, our own Dom Sinacola, drunk, after driving Edgar back from Intonation, blurted on the CMG message board:
GAWDAMN i love this album…driving back to my best friend’s house last night, i listened to really only this and clap your hands (which just gets better and better, and better too). “Runner” and “Modern World” are perfect out the gates…and then “Dear Sons and Daughters” through “Dinner Bells” is plain addictive…“It’s a Curse” is my fucking jam.
It should be noted that the first two “I”’s in Dom’s paragraph were not capitalized because of his erection blocking the shift key. It should also be noted that the rest of the paragraph suggests that a combination of Wolf Parade and CYHSY is too much for Dom.
More biting of interesting commentary: Nick Sylvester recently Voiced his riff that, because of Krug’s throaty chant, Wolf Parade are a (poor) Frog Eyes facsimile. This is funny, because the Victoria, BC vocalist/keyboardist used to be in Frog Eyes. Which leads one down the one-hand-clapping-and-saying-whatthefuck road of “can you rip off your own band”. I clap my hands over my ears and say “No” (which is why Travistan failed, and which is also why we let George, Paul, and John have solo careers without some Gza going “biter”, and also why I name-dropped Gza right there). Plus, Carey’s Kung-Fu name is Squeaky Falsetto, Croaking Groan. Spencer’s is Yelpy Tenor Scale Scaler, and he is classier, as he does not rant inaudible about “fuck fuck fuck” in the middle of his songs, which are about family, social complacency, and whales swimming around city blocks. Furthermore, Wolf Parade also has a guy named Dan Boeckner who sings half of the WP material with and/or without Spencer (see magical moment at the end of “Modern World” when Spencer’s heavy chants echo behind Dan’s exhausted chorus, or “We Built Another World” where the two criss-cross and careen over one another in a haunted limbo of a joint vocal performance). Boeckner is nearly as remarkable as Krug, simply for his ability to howl out earnest, Seger/Springsteenesque gutwrenchers like “This Heart’s On Fire,” which is by far the album’s most rock-song song, which makes it a wise choice to close the album, because you will have the record on repeat, and when your laser skits back to “You Are A Runner and I Am My Father’s Son” you will think you’re in a different album/hell altogether, and instead of hearing Boeckner’s plaintive “it’s getting better all the time / sometimes we stay at home / and it’s just fine” over thrashy-respectable eighties risqué FM ware (complete with pipey synth circa Men Without Hats) you’ll get:
I’ll build a house inside of you / I’ll go in through the mouth / I’ll draw three figures on your heart /One of them will be me as a boy / One of them will be me / One of them will be me watching you run / Watching you run, into the high noon sun / Watching you run, further than guns will go / You are a runner with a golden voice / And I am my father’s son
…and you will think (again) what the fuck, and maybe, when you realize the fuck, you’ll get a little anxious when you figure out where Spencer’s father fits into his headspace, and why by the end of this spastic, leaking, drooling, straightjacketed whiplash of a record you need Dan’s warm, rockstar underdog hug (and the empathy inherent in the repetition of the futile self-help refrain: “It’s getting better all the time”), to prepare you for the second round of chills.
People in real-life say interesting things about Wolf Parade, too. During the speed-bag organ breakdown on “Fancy Claps,” the indie rock dude at my local record shop (who only likes Built to Spill and has a solid local band that sounds a lot like Built to Spill) said “More of these bands need to do this kind of thing”. And then he stopped. And listened more. And nodded. And said “other bands do this, but they don’t do it right”. And then he stopped, and listened as the song picked back up, with those faint faux-cheerleader claps in the background (just for your opinionation, by implementing two bobby-socked clapping dudes as timekeepers, this track pretty much encapsulates the antithesis of what Alec Ounsworth meant when he named his band) (it’s true, it does, and that’s how) and he said “yeah, this is the first time this type of stuff has been redone correctly, thanks for this” and went back to stocking the racks while actually bopping, which indie rock guy never, ever does or even permits on site.
I personally think that when you have all twelve songs from this album saved in mp3 form, and you open the Apologies to the Queen Mary folder on your hard drive, the icons for the mp3’s look like a small army. Or like a peek behind the sneezeguard at Baskin Robbins. Or the best poker hand ever. But only for this album.
Amir said (loose quote, see below) “these guys have abstract expressionism in spades”. This is accurate, and it’s a rare feat where bands pull off the “my lyrics only really mean anything to me because I wrote them and they are personal” thing while appealing to and being understood by (understood wrongly, though, of course – snaps suspenders, smokes pipe) anyone willing to actively listen. Also noteworthy is that Wolf Parade and only Wolf Parade can make Amir and I agree on something (Amir, again loosely: “holy fuck what an awesome album”).
But Amir, is it better than M83? “Heh.”
Spencer said “Most of these songs are about something, but some of them are more about things than others,” thus validating Amir’s comment on abstract expressionism, and retroactively extending Amir’s observation beyond lyrics and into conversational bits, and probably lifestyle and even fashion sense and probably diet, as well.
Matt, a buddy of mine who used to be in Sub Pop-signed band Hardship Post (back in the Nirvana era), said “I don’t think I can get past the guy’s voice”. I said “Which guy?”. Matt said “The singer”. Matt spent cool points on that one.
Our own Clay Purdom said, of probably the most cathartic moment on the record (“I’ll Believe in Anything”):
Maybe it’s the way it starts with anthemic drums and squelchy synths, like a funhouse version of “Born in the USA.” Maybe it’s the vibrato-laden refrain “Give me your eyes / I need sunshine” (Twit Aaron pre-edit: “a beautiful couplet in which Spencer begs his object to lend to him her positive perspective, striking”). Maybe it’s the fact that I can’t tell if there are even verses to this song, just a couple of alternating choruses that gain momentum over four and a half minutes, sliding between rousing “Young Lions” luster and slippery lyrical downturns with effortless grace. Maybe it’s the way this song makes the phrase “Nobody loves you / And nobody gives a damn” sound like a triumphant, hard-won validation. Maybe it’s the fact that I really will believe in anything these days, only to find myself second-guessing my convictions a few weeks later: is The Woods still that good? Is Gimme Fiction? Why don’t I listen to Funeral anymore? O Bloc Party, where art thou? Are Wolf Parade any different? Do I care?
Dom backs Clay up on that: “Oh and that part, “Give me your eyes, I need sunshine”…gives me…an…the jitters. what a great song.”
I sent a disc with the earlier WP songs on it to Sean Fennessey, who subsequently admitted to being a “disciple” of the band (no shit, he said “disciple,” he obviously compensates for his indie rock guilt by speaking in Wu-slang). In any case, even Sean Fennessey digs this stuff, and that guy only likes rap music.
And it should also be noted that a lot of folks who were cradling the second Wolf Parade EP, snuggling into its rougher-round-the-edges versions of “Dinner Bells,” “Grounds for Divorce,” “It’s a Curse,” and “Sons and Daughters” will end up complaining about the Brock-produced versions in the first instance, and in the first instance only. I, too, was such a victim of indie principle:
One listen through and it’s … I dunno. Disappointing to a certain extent. It sounds like they were already bored of their better songs by the time they got to the studio. Or that they were on Isaac Brock’s schedule. What do you think? (e-mail to Chet, June 2005)
But Chet set me straight:
I really don’t mind these new versions in comparison; I even like them. In most cases it’s an even trade-off, some of the rawness for a bit more polish, a love of sonic detail now subbing in for a love of WP’s grime. The album version of “Modern World” is a hundred times better. But fucking hell do I miss those drawn-out, wheezing, veritably heart-breaking, I said “heart-breaking,” Blood on the Tracks harmonica exhales near the end of the old version of “Dinner Bells.” That’s a three point deduction. (e-mail reply, 28 seconds later)
And I realized my folly:
Upon listen #2: Never mind. It’s funny how preconceived notions of songs get in the way of the same songs reconceived. That “I had a very bad time tonight” (“Another World”) song is an anvil in a good way. And I like how they don’t bark the words so much this time around, the added attention to detail does pay off. The vocal harmonies on the first song, the new one, scare the shit out of me (“Runner,” again).
Yes we actually do e-mail like that. It’s embarrassing, I know.
So to conclude (all quotes lifted from the secret CMG office bulletin board and used without permission):
Clay said: “Wolf Parade is up there with Spoon and Edan as an album of the year contender.”
Peter Hepburn added: “At this point, WP is my favorite of the year. “Shine a Light” and everything after is fucking brilliant.”
Bryan Rowsell insightfully indicated: “This is not a Guided By Voices album.”
Boss Scott ordained: “It just edges out Sleater/My Morning Jacket/Spoon for me. Album of the year, can’t see anything besides a new Neko challenging that." (At which point Scott’s own capitals mysteriously disappeared).
David Goldstein, Esq. bequeathed: “Queen Mary’s probably lurking somewhere in the bottom half of my year end top 10 right now, but I’d still say that S-K beats it by quite a bit.” But we all know that Dave
is trying to get into Carrie Brownstein’s pants loves his girlfriend very much (Hi Jess).
Sean Ford piped in: “You guys are forgetting the British Sea Power album, I think.” But he was joking.
David Greenwald quipped: “AND RYAN MOTHERFUCKING ADAMS.” He was, sadly, serious.
However, Kaiser Chet replied: “This is probably the first time that anyone has typed “Ryan Motherfucking Adams,” and all in caps, too. WP is definitely my favorite of the year right now. 87%. I don’t see it being topped.”
And, finally, Amir “Kounterpoint” Karim Nezar, who is not afraid of hyperbole (gave the new M83 like 86%, “heh”) commented, in his usual slick, and for once inarguable, fashion: “Wolf Parade is just outrageous. In a totally sweet, “holy fuck indie rock is alive again” way. I mean…jesus I love this album. It’s just so bursting with great ideas, clever songwriting, brilliant dynamics, and killer lyrics. It would get a 93% from me, edging out both Spoon and Tiger Bear Wolf. Whoever it was that did a lyrics analysis, I remember that being spot-on; these guys have meaningful abstract expressionism in spades.”
Tee hee. That was me with that lyric analysis. But now we’re just
jerks twits talking in circles.