Apologies to the Queen Mary (Sub Pop, 2005)
by Wolf Parade
originally published at Dusted Magazine
It's not hard to see why Apologies to the Queen Mary is so good in comparison to Wolf Parade's encouraging but somewhat frustrating teasers: there's more of it. At less than fifty minutes, it's still twice as long as the longest of their three self-titled EPs (the 2004 one), which affords it room to spread out and set up its own complex networks of melody and imagery, posit a sound and then play with variations, and otherwise capitalize on the advantages of the full-length format.
It's trickier to put a finger on why Apologies to the Queen Mary is so good in the first place. Most of its strengths, it seems, are borrowed from sources that aren't really all that disparate — the folksy amble and/or unhinged ramble of Modest Mouse, and the winning zeal and/or concentrated lavishness of the Arcade Fire, to name the obvious ones — so to commend them for bridging the gaps between them only says so much. But those similarities are ultimately as superficial as vocal cadence or production value, and it's to Wolf Parade's credit that Queen Mary doesn't owe its real essence or thrust to either one. (Granted, that essence happens to fall between crippling melancholy on one hand and giddy exuberance on the other, but that can be said of most worthwhile rock music, now can't it?)
So, then, that essence: bittersweet, without much brooding; excited, without much excess. Growing pains, maybe. The record is by turns primal and sophisticated; the choppy rhythms and synth-heavy buzz of nearly all its songs find a friendly middle ground for them. Closer "This Heart's On Fire" is much better than opener "You Are A Runner And I Am My Father's Son," but the two make for great joyous, noisy bookends. They almost encapsulate the urgency and simplicity in between, the imaginative lyrical preoccupations and skillful use of repetition, but without giving away the surprises, like the wonderfully strange ugliness of "I'll Believe In Anything" or the distant near-dirge of "Dinner Bells." Songs vary in scale, from the relatively unassuming "Modern World" to the epic conclusion of "Same Ghost Every Night" (like, OK Computer-caliber epic), but they revolve around a pleasingly unified axis. None of them are actively bad; even the sort-of-grating post-punk caricatures ("Fancy Claps") sound completely like they belong.
If the record has weaknesses, they're the picky and essentially trivial kind: a couple of songs that were better in their EP versions ("Grounds For Divorce"), or the dull problem of characterizing Wolf Parade's schtick without appealing to other indie-rawk staples. But there's nothing of substance lacking in the least compelling moments of Queen Mary, and the mix of rousing wildness and reckless wisdom in its brightest points is at once inspiring, promising, and terrifically entertaining.back