Wolf Parade is back. And in the indie rock luminaries’ first full-length album in seven years, vocalists Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner are belting their hearts out onto the table in true Wolf Parade fashion. Cry Cry Cry has all the energy of a sugar-filled toddler tucked into bed with a blanket of dejection.
In “Valley Boy,” the album’s first single, the band provides a valley filled to the brim with sonic sweets. It deepens and spills over, the drums, guitars and vocals trading center stage and playing off of each other like actors in a meticulous drama. The subject of the drama appears to be a David Bowie-esque figure, a beloved singer lost to the realm of the dead whose last phase in life holds some mystery. (And who’s to say it’s not Bowie himself? The icon is a noted influence of the band, after all.) The lyrics are accusatory; they sound as if they are spoken by a distraught fan or old friend of the famous songster. Krug asks the deceased singer questions he can’t answer: “Are you still a lover boy? / Are you still on the cover or / Did you become a valley boy out there?” He obsesses over how this singer could have possibly lost his lovely and sincere disposition, and he dreads this betrayal. This hostility is a thin veil for grief. Emotions contend and pull Krug in every direction, but his confusion sounds so good.
Similarly equivocal is Cry Cry Cry’s second single, “You’re Dreaming.” Boeckner grabs the mic to bemoan the daydream of the information age in a blissfully sardonic number. Although the dream is a bad one taking place in a fantasy world inseparable from violence and destruction, there’s so much excitement in its sound. The song introduces itself with the cheeky staccato of a keyboard. Guitars electrically weave in and out of the melody, helping to drive the beat forward in the verses and constructing flaring bridges between them. Lyrics and sonics ascend into the deceptively jubilant howl of an individual trapped in a bad dream.
Wolf Parade isn’t afraid to take risks on their comeback album. The linear “Incantation” is them at their most assertive and unafraid. The band unleashes a horn section after the song’s first dive into cacophony, a tornado of twinkling keys and buzzing guitars. The guitars win out with bursting notes but quickly pull back to let the piano begin a forceful trot that just as quickly reconvenes with its instrumental co-conspirators, who by the end of it are wailing and stomping their feet. Where “Incantation” is a deliberate march into chaos, “Flies on the Sun” is a woozy march through the oppressive sands of time. By its fourth and final minute, you’re teetering on the brink of collapse. By the end, you’re one of many “flies on the sun, lying there.”
All of these songs, however, are bite-sized treats compared to the king-sized “Baby Blue” and “Weaponized.” These six-minute tracks make up the core of the album, and they are a one-two that reckons with the best of them. The great control and eccentricity Wolf Parade displays in these power ballads is the band at its most impressive. “Baby Blue” is an epic display of the band’s capability. It sounds like a battle royale taking place in a locomotive that’s careening around corners and through mountains. “Weaponized” is a bit more measured. A skillful combination of anxious energy and bleeding soul backs Boeckner’s singing about a battle with yourself that feels like a battle against the world.
Modern-day isolation is certainly a recurring theme, but Wolf Parade is not saying they have any solutions for it. While Krug tangles himself in the pain of isolation on “Am I an Alien Here,” Boeckner begs for it on “Artificial Life.” He pleads for some peace and quiet in a soundscape like the world of a broken arcade game that he’s been sucked into. What the band finally arrives at, though, is a question. The closing track, “King of Piss and Paper,” is a meditation on the political and social state of the world. Wolf Parade asks if it’s okay to sing about love and ourselves at this time in a geopolitical environment led by a fear and hate-mongering papier-mâché man. This “king” threatens people’s ways of life and, in a way, love itself. So is it wrong to ignore him to attend to ourselves and each other, even if for a second? Isn’t it wrong that it feels that way?
This fear, this hatred, these illusions and their concomitant feelings of overstimulation and alienation stand front and center in the album. What Wolf Parade did with Cry Cry Cry was give voice to those emotions of the modern age that swirl in the chaos. They gave us a thoughtfully grand exhibition of the sickness of the times.