C&P’d from Hoist the Black Flag:
During the pre-release press for Expo 86, Wolf Parade stressed that they were presenting us with a more focused and energetic work than its predecessor, but in their attempt to split the difference between the immediacy of Apologies and the slow-burners that characterized At Mount Zoomer, they’ve wound up with something that confuses ‘planned’ with ‘focused,’ and ‘loud’ and ‘busy’ with ‘energetic.’ It’s a solid album, but it’s more dependable than it is inspired.
The twin heads of the band react to this newfound structure in different ways. At Mount Zoomer saw Spencer Krug abandon the three-and-a-half minute gutpunch in favour of twisting, evolving numbers with dramatic payoffs, like ‘California Dreamer’ and ‘Kissing the Beehive.’ While lead single ‘What Did My Lover Say?’ follows suit, most of Krug’s numbers on Expo 86 churn out interesting (at times brilliant) musical ideas that never really coalesce into songs. Unfortunately, his Midas Touch with explosive choruses manifests itself only on ‘Cloud Shadow on the Mountain,’ turning an otherwise ramshackle song into an album highlight. The greatest disservice done to Krug, however, is the production. If Zoomer’s cleaner sound helped reveal the structure and hooks buried under his proggier tendencies, the vocal reverb and hazy, heavy instrumentals often cause his melodies to get lost. None of it is bad per se, just not up to his usual standards.
Dan Boeckner, on the other hand, despite being buried under the same blur as Krug, seems more adept at melding the looser lessons of the last album with the new aesthetic. Even with heavier guitars and fuller arrangements, ‘Ghost Pressure’ and ‘Little Golden Age’ have more than adequate room to breathe and build, and even steal a page or two out of Krug’s book of choruses. “You were in the bedroom, singing radio songs! Sing ‘em loud, sing ‘em all night, Emily!” Boeckner exclaims in Expo 86’s sole moment of truly vital catharsis, as trilling guitars and keyboards spin around him. Wolf Parade’s sound has traditionally been dominated by Spencer’s eccentricities, but Dan’s exceptionally strong work is the heart of this record.
Expo 86 is the work of a talented band in a holding pattern. Krug and Boeckner have mastered their respective styles and for the first time integrated them into a unified sound, but seem to lack a clear direction for the band. For all their differences, Wolf Parade’s first two albums succeeded due to the strength of Boeckner and Krug’s songs, and sonics were carefully and meticulously deployed in their service. Rather than aiming to create an album that embraces a particular sound, the band would be better off letting their songs remain the focus, because those moments when they are rival anything in their back catalogue.