The first five seconds of “Soldier’s Grin,” the first track on At Mount Zoomer, Wolf Parade’s second LP, consist of a spindly synth and guitar duet that announces the program of the rest of the album: tight, lyrical, melodic prog-punk-pop that gets plenty of mileage out of old keyboards and crunchy guitars. This welding of synth with indie-rock guitar reflects the split songwriting duties of Wolf Parade. Like its predecessor, 2005’s Apologies to the Queen Mary, the new record is split almost evenly into songs written and sung by keyboardist Spencer Krug or guitarist Dan Boeckner. The slight stylistic differences between Boeckner’s and Krug’s songs are unified on Zoomer by drummer Arlen Thompson’s big, warm production. Songs like “Call it a Ritual” and “Bang Your Drum” propel on tense, jumpy punk rhythms before letting loose into brief moments of pop satisfaction–a formula that worked so well for the band on Queen Mary. The best moments of the record come though when they try something new. On longer songs like “Fine Young Cannibals” and epic album-closer “Kissing the Beehive” Wolf Parade play with trickier melodies and leave more open space in their music, letting the rhythms and melodies coalesce into tight, beautiful pockets that aren’t overwhelmed by big synths or vocal growls. That’s not to say there isn’t something sublime about thicker numbers like “The Grey Estates,” a keyboard-driven ditty that recalls The Cars, or “Language City,” a song that channels (if not flat out rips off) The Moody Blues’s “Your Wildest Dreams.” Still, there are a few missteps here: “California Dreamer” aims for motortik tension but falls instead into annoying territory, and the first half of Krug’s “An Animal in Your Care” is the worst in indulgent glam-emo. However, “Animal” picks up in its second half, evolving into a crisp stomping guitar and piano workout–but on an album with only nine songs, each one should be perfect. Ultimately, Zoomer won’t disappoint its intended audience. Wolf Parade make the best sort of indie rock comfort food, the kind that recalls the classic bands of the genre (Pixies, Sonic Youth) while also hearkening to the earlier days of college rock (Talking Heads, Television). Really, nothing here pushes boundaries–Wolf Parade’s biggest trick is making you forget that what you’re listening to is really as safe as milk.
At Mount Zoomer will be released June 17 from Sub Pop records.