WOLF PARADE with the ILLUMINATI and SHAWN HEWITT as part of SANTA CRUZ at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (December 10). $10. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
As anyone well versed in contemporary indie arcana can attest, the current scene can be a freakin' zoo - literally. For those keeping score at home, 2004's carnival of the animals boasts buzz bands like Wolf Eyes, Animal Collective, Deerhoof and Frog Eyes. Like many of their bestially named peers, Wolf Parade teeter on that fine line between barely controlled frenetic chaos and surprisingly catchy pop melodies. They defy easy categorization by combining a slew of musical forms (they claim to write folk songs devoid of the musical connotations of folk music) with unconventional song structures and impassioned caterwauling.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll discover the really cool thing about the Montreal four-piece is their deep undercurrent of old-school soul.
"I've always loved stuff like Otis Redding, Don Covay and the '5' Royales," explains vocalist-guitarist Dan Boeckner from his pals' Montreal pad, where he's been couch-surfing for months. "Man, Otis Redding was making stuff way ahead of his time. He did this cover of Covay's Mercy Mercy that's almost like a krautrock track.
"You can listen to killer old stuff and incorporate those influences without just copying them, without forming some shit garage band doing bar covers of old 50s and 60s soul and rock. I mean, with the disco-punk trend, I'd much rather listen to Wire than Radio 4 or any of those totally boring other bands."
So don't pick up a Wolf Parade album expecting rote imitation. Actually, you can't pick up a Wolf Parade album right now cuz their self-released EPs keep selling out of Montreal's Cheap Thrills, and although Sub Pop signed 'em earlier this year, their wildly anticipated debut LP - produced with Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock - won't drop till April.
Check out their www.newmusiccanada.com Web page and you can hear the band's insane range, from the fragile beauty of older tracks like 2003's Dinner Bells (which sounds like Baxter Dury doing a doo-wop lullaby take on Strawberry Fields Forever) to the elastic R&B/post-punk swagger of the more recent It's A Curse.
Boeckner claims the Parade's coalesced into something way tighter, insisting that the new Brock-assisted recordings have moved far beyond the "weird abrasive shit" they created early on. And although their live shows can dissolve into utter chaos (one Montreal gig years ago featured members of the Arcade Fire whacking things with baseball bats), they've focused on control on their upcoming record.
"We consciously tried to make our songs sound nothing at all like our live show," he offers. "They're really sad - at least my portion is. There's a definite lyrical thread that, like, oozes melancholy.
"We also threw in some acoustic songs that we couldn't ever pull off in a live show. For the most part, we're always limited by our gear," he continues, laughing. "It's crap. Spencer (Krug) and Hadji (Bakura) play keyboards that are always on the verge of falling apart, and we have no way of making them any quieter. When we tried to mix the record, we got fucked up cuz everything was in the mid-range."
Lucky for Wolf Parade, they had Brock on board to help iron out the sonic wrinkles. In fact, the Modest Mouse frontman was instrumental in helping them get signed to Sub Pop.
Brock had been a fan since Boeckner's old band, Atlas Strategic, opened for Modest Mouse in Victoria almost half a decade ago.
"I remember getting loaded at a hotel with him, hanging over the balcony and seeing how far we could lean out before we dropped," he recalls. "He said he wanted us to sign with Sub Pop, so we ended up in negotiations with the people at the label."
Atlas Strategic went bust after Boeckner, bummed out by family drama, disappeared to Montreal, but when Wolf Parade finally flew their flag, Sub Pop came calling.
"The people there are so awesome," he effuses. "When we played the All Tomorrow's Parties festival out west, we'd been drinking hard alcohol and there was an, uh, incident with fire extinguishers and we got kicked off the boat.
"The people at the label treat us like a puppy that pees on the rug all the time but which they still love. We've showed up at their offices without any money, in a van that's totally broken down, and they'll go to an ATM and take out money to help us get by. But we're trying to be better now."