If you’re just going to put on sheep’s clothing, what’s the point of being a wolf? Among the Canadian bands who took a big bite out of international indie rock in the 2000s, Wolf Parade was the most dressed down and feral, the leanest and hungriest—at least on 2005 debut Apologies to the Queen Mary, before they started succumbing to the call of the prog on their next two albums. A two-headed beast, Wolf Parade was born when Dan Boeckner’s sturdy, greasy glam songwriting reacted to evil seraph Spencer Krug’s free radicals. Together, they flayed strangely decrepit rock songs down to the sinew, and their music cut a stark outline again the atmosphere of garish muchness typified by the likes of Broken Social Scene.
As it happens, both bands are back to their old tricks this year on their first new records since 2010. (I wasn’t kidding about aughties nostalgia—can a Stills reunion be far behind?) And, happily, both bands have reoriented to first-album principles, resuming their respective positions of the minimalist and the mostess. After the heads of Wolf Parade dispersed into well-liked other projects (Boeckner’s Handsome Furs, Krug’s Sunset Rubdown), they reunited with Dante De Caro and Arlen Thompson last year for EP 4, where they warmed up a sleeker engine. It produces darkly blossoming beauty throughout Cry Cry Cry, a study in checked grandeur, thrumming with sneaky baroque melodies and mirage-like shifts.
Opening track “Lazarus Online” is an all-time keeper, with lyrics Zack de la Rocha could have penned (“All right/ Let’s fight/ Let’s rage against the night,” Krug murmurs with impeccable menace), but purled with a delicate, dusky knitwork of guitar and keys—something a spider would feel right at home in. Then Boeckner’s dashing “You’re Dreaming” flushes out the darkness with synth-pop sunlight. “Valley Boy,” Krug’s plucky Leonard Cohen tribute, timestamps the record just after the singer’s death last year, in the mounting dread of the run-up to the presidential election. Its highlights—the likes of “Flies on the Sun,” “Baby Blue,” and “Artificial Life”—seem stained by that moment of desperate optimism. Though energetic, their danceable chassis and sprawling melodies nevertheless feel weary, as if constantly grinding against some looming, countervailing force. It’s true that wearied, furtive anthems have always been Wolf Parade’s thing, but they feel especially right for these enervating times.