There's not too much info out there on Wolf Parade's new album just yet, but the mostly B.C.-based indie rock pack's first full-length in seven years is nearly complete by the time ION reaches drummer Arlen Thompson at home in Nanaimo. He'd been out tracking at Seattle's Robert Lang Studios earlier in the week, and judging by the band's Insta pic of a well-placed microphone, a pair of bongos, and an exquisitely crusty, spiritually attuning amethyst, the sessions have been epic.
"We actually double-tracked those bongos," Thompson says over the phone with laugh, noting that the group and producer John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Death Cab for Cutie) got together across multiple sessions at Robert Lang and Gabriola Island, B.C.'s Noise Floor facility to make "a huge sounding record."
While the as-yet-unnamed album potentially sees release this summer, Thompson is spending the afternoon finessing a few more synth sounds at his home studio, running the melodies through a modular system to "mangle it up." In a couple of hours he'll be braving a Vancouver Island whiteout to pick up his kids from school.
Times have changed since Wolf Parade broke out of the mid-00s Montreal scene that also made a household name of Arcade Fire, but the group are giving it another try after announcing the end of a six-year hiatus in 2016. Following the release of three much-acclaimed LPs, Wolf Parade's initial run was clipped before creative malaise and too much personal tension set in.
"We didn't want to get to the point where we were just doing this as a business and people were hating each other. We wanted to nip it in the bud," Thompson reminisces, adding that the preventative measure left things open to a reunion later down the line.
Partly, though, getting back together came down to logistics. A full-fledged exodus from Montreal took guitarist/vocalist Dan Boeckner to California and keyboardist/vocalist Spencer Krug to Finland, while Thompson and bassist Dante DeCaro made their way back to their native West Coast. Boeckner has since returned to Montreal, but once Krug settled himself on Vancouver Island, the notion of jamming seemed a given.
"There were three members living within an hour of each other, it just kind of made sense," the drummer recalls of kickstarting the reunion. "We all missed it a little bit, and were kind of curious what it would be if we got back together again. We started jamming a little bit, and the first one was a little rough. The second one kind of felt okay; there was some magic there, so we decided to give it a go."
While the band's return was marked with Sub Pop's deluxe vinyl re-release of their landmark 2005 debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, Thompson notes how important it was for Wolf Parade to not just rest on their laurels as a nostalgia act. Instead, they quickly composed four tracks that made up last year's self-released comeback collection, EP 4. Though filled with fresh material, it still splits lead vocal duties evenly between Boeckner and Krug. The former's gravelly twang soars above the chunky rock riffs and baseball game organs of "Automatic" and "Floating World"; the latter's kind-of-quivered approach handles "C'est La Vie Way" and the Gowan-style '80s CanPop of "Mr. Startup."
Wolf Parade have jetted into their second age with sold out, multi-night stints in North American metropolises, and some late night talk show appearances. Last summer's stop on Conan had the show's Basic Cable Band adding horns to the televised performance of "Mr. Startup," Jerry Vivino's jazzy squeal landing meta as Krug sang of the sound of saxophones. The experiment with brass led to a golden idea of adding horns to the impending full-length. "We thought it was kind of a cool sound, so we decided to roll with it some more on the new record," Thompson confirms, adding that a trio of players from Nanaimo made it onto the LP. As the compact and poppy EP 4 implied, the reinvigorated Wolf Parade have scaled things back from the twisting, five-plus minute pieces that filled 2010's Expo 86. Thompson says the quartet are currently in their "taking care of business" phase, generally favouring brevity over ballooned-out compositions.
"The way we've always worked is kind of a reaction to our last record," the skinsman alludes of the group's creative process. "Expo 86 was our prog record. We got really into making these dense songs-- a lot of changes, taking a riff and having these variations on the riff. We kind of realized after playing some of the stuff live how overblown some of these songs were. The new stuff is a reaction to that."
Though full-fledged previews from the new album have yet to arrive, a short Instagram video of the adopted horn section "gettin' free" in the studio makes a case for overblown arrangements not always being a bad thing.
Photo: Shawn McDonald