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Wolf Parade- At Mount Zoomer (2008)

March 7, 2011

If you were to break down what I listen to in an average day, the chances are very high that the decade best represented would be the 1970s.  I’m not certain why this is my musical decade of choice, but it certainly is, and this has been reflected in my recent album reviews.  While I have no problem with that, I feel like it’s time to shake things up a bit.

I’m trading in the fiddles for synths and reviewing an album that I was actually old enough to buy when it came out, at least for today.  We’ll see how the my life goes before I promise not to do another country-rock record tomorrow.

Today’s review is of Wolf Parade’s sophomore effort, and my vote for best record of 2008, At Mount Zoomer.

This was the record that got me into Wolf Parade (one of my favorite modern bands), and I constantly ask myself when I’m listening to it, “Why is this record so often overlooked?”  The answer, it seems, is the dreaded sophomore slump.  In this case, fortunately, it appears that the issue was on the side of the critics and public and not the band.  At Mount Zoomer is of the same caliber as their much better known debut Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005), but it just didn’t get as warm of a reception.  Speaking from personal experience, these songs have also held up well both on record and in a live setting.

This is one of those records that I can hear every song as the soundtrack to a short film.  They are each a self-contained burst that would perfectly fit certain actions.  A concept that’s a little loopy, I’ll admit, but the best way I can think to get inside this record.

“Soldier’s Grin”- You are walking through a field. A nice field filled with lush green grasses and flowers, probably with someone very important to you, preferably a family member or lover.  Yet, something about the scene just isn’t right.  The colors are too bright, or there is a certain haze at the edge of your vision that keeps you from feeling at ease.  When the bridge kicks in, things start to come out of sync.  The “horse-shaped fire dragging stereo wire” definitely makes an appearance.  When the main theme kicks back in around the 3:48 mark, the trip through the field has suddenly taken on a more ominous tone.  You run and run, but eventually your legs give out and you collapse as the screen fades to black.

“Call It A Ritual”- City street at night.  Light rain is falling.  Cars hiss past as you walk in and out of the circles the streetlights produce on the ground.  As the bridge kicks in, you look up and all around, but without being able to pin down what caused you to stop, and you continue walking into the night.

“Language City”- A trip through an art gallery.  As you hob-knob and rub elbows with the rich and powerful, you realize that you are not dressed for the occasion.  While surrounded by tuxedos and evening gowns, you are bedecked in street clothes.  You look for somewhere to hide, but continue to find yourself in room after room of judgmental eyes.  Eventually (in true music video fashion), you find a can of paint and you just go crazy-go-nuts on the entire place, covering everyone and everything in the near vicinity with thick layers of paint.  You can choose the color, but I’m feeling orange.

“Bang Your Drum”- Post-apocalyptic scene.  Yet, more along the lines of the first Mad Max than The Road Warrior.  You move about from place to place looking for some sign of civilization.  Come the “oh-oh-oh’s”, you finally find an encampment and try to make peace with the locals.  Despite trying several times to prove that you mean them no harm, you are turned away again and again.  Disheartened, you return to your trek through the desert as the sun sets.

“California Dreamer”- You wake up strapped into a bed.  You feel as though you are in a mental institution though you can barely see what is going on around you.  There is no movement, only a queasy half-light.  As the music picks up, the lights flicker on and a group of men and women dressed in hospital garb enters and stands around you, looking down.  Around the time “Do the young stay pretty?” comes out of the speakers; you are looking quickly from face to face, hoping to get some answers.  Eventually realizing that you will get none, you close your eyes.  You feel yourself being lifted up and open your eyes to see that you are being carried out of the room and down a hallway.  As “Do the young stay pretty?” is repeated, you are brought into another room and laid on a bed that you realize is exactly the same as the one you just left.  Again, you look from face to face, straining against your restraints, hoping someone will take pity on you.  With no answers to be found, you again lay back and close your eyes.

“The Grey Estates”- Definitely a road trip.  Scenery flashing by as you sit behind the passenger seat, cramped up against the door by two friends sharing the seat with you.  The terrain is fields as far as the eyes can see, and the gentle undulation of driving through a succession of hills and valleys brings you to that place where you aren’t quite asleep, but everything sort of blends together and time passes slowly.  It doesn’t matter where you are coming from or where you going.  Everything blurs together into a sweet haze.

“Fine Young Cannibals”- Crab fishing.  I can’t tell you why, but this song makes me think about working on a crab boat.  It could be the music’s swelling and descending, but something about this songs brings to mind beards, slickers and bringing in the pots.  I’ve never actually been crab fishing, either.  If anyone who reads this has been, feel free to tell me in the comments below.  I’m just curious if true crab fishermen dig Wolf Parade, and more specifically if they listen to it while bringing in the catch of the day.

“An Animal In Your Care”- You are digging a hole.  You begin standing under a tree, with just a shovel in your hand and a goal.  It is early morning.  The sun is shining and birds are chirping.  You dig and dig until you are standing at the bottom of a hole that is several times your height.  The light has been gradually fading during this entire time.  You finally realize your plight around the 2:05 mark, and the rest of the song is you trying to climb out of the hole.  Several times you make it up on handholds that you find in the soil, but multiple times you lose your grip only to tumble back down.  Finally as the song comes to an end, you reach the top of the hole, and begin filling it back in surrounded by twilight.

“Kissing the Beehive”- This is truly an epic song in every sense of the word.  The lyrics and the music both push headlong towards a grand climax, picking up pressure as they go.  The song finally explodes and comes to a complete stop before picking back up for a three-minute coda.  Now, why did I describe this song differently than the others?  The answer to that question is the video below, which is exactly what I see when I listen to it.

This video is actually from an animated adaptation of Maurice Ogden’s poem “The Hangman”, but it perfectly fits the mood of the song.  It was watching this video that got me into the song, which got me into the record, which got me into the band. So, thank you for getting me into Wolf Parade, Maurice Ogden, and you also wrote one of my favorite poems.  I owe Maurice Ogden two high fives in quick succession.

So, that is what I see when I listen to At Mount Zoomer.  I don’t do this with every album, so I consider this a pretty good sign that I love it. Unfortunately, not everyone has had the chance to experience this record, with it sort of being swept under the rug in favor of Apologies and their recent third, EXPO 86 (2010).

and this one's great, too.

This is a stellar record

Let me know what you think about this record. Do you also get visions while listening to this aural recording? Do you like this style of review or do you think it makes me sound like a pretentious fool?  You ought to post in the comments about these things!

-ZAK

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