Sometimes you have to reckon with where you came from to figure out where you’re going. Introspection is rarely easy, but we learn the most about ourselves when it is deemed necessary. In a number of ways, knowing when and how to self-examine is the driving force behind the fifth album from Montreal outfit Wolf Parade, a record on which they ask tough questions and shy away from easy answers; perhaps those answers aren’t theirs to give. Besides, before turning their collective gaze outward, they had to figure themselves out – thus, for the first time since their early days, they’ve reverted to a power trio lineup of Spencer Krug, Dan Boeckner and Arlen Thompson, after multi-instrumentalist Dante DeCaro’s amicable departure on conclusion of their extensive tour in support of 2017’s Cry Cry Cry.
What that means, essentially, is that the original 2003 lineup has made a 2020 album; and Thin Mind certainly speaks to our unfolding times. Its title, cribbed from storming closing track ‘Town Square’, evokes the constant rolling news cycle that’s so emblematic of our times, and questions what information we take in, how we do it and why, as well as its impact on us, not to mention the allure of comfortable stasis vs. the human need for progress. Opener ‘Under Glass’ comes out swinging, with Boeckner’s surging guitars laying down the foundation for his venomous, pointed lyrics (“I even know the names / Of the useless sons and daughters of a criminal class” – sound like anyone you know?) and the sort of urgency that marks this record out as a different beast. This isn’t the Wolf Parade you thought you knew.
The notable exception to the rule is that, as before, vocals and lyrics are split evenly between Boeckner and Krug. The latter presides over the barbed ‘Julia Take Your Man Home’, offering sage advice to the titular character, dealing with a shitty boyfriend, the kind of man who sits at the bar ‘carving shapes that look like dicks into the wood’. Stasis or progress? Well, Krug saves some of his best lines for the song’s dramatic coda: “To say that he loves you would be unfair towards you.” Just dump him already. (Notably, Krug wrote that song about an exaggerated, worst-case-scenario version of himself.) Julia has her own answers to find, and that theme of introspection plays out on a small scale. Is this right for me? Am I doing what I think I should? ‘The Static Age’ takes that idea and runs with it, providing one of the album’s best hooks in the process. “We can begin again!” Boeckner exclaims, as much for his benefit as the listeners. It’s never too late to make a fresh start – 17 years into their career, the trio are doing just that.
Elsewhere, rollicking early highlight ‘Forest Green’ brings together the lyrical strands of climate emergency, examination of national histories–taking their native Canada to task in the process: “We got the sea and the sand / we got colonial days on stolen land”–and the unsettling frustration of not quite feeling content with where you’re from. “It’s something you have known since birth / You understand this place is cursed / But it feels like home” runs its chorus, before opening out into a cathartic instrumental denouement that feels like it could go on for ages, stopping short of ballooning into the sort of epic that closed their 2008 album At Mount Zoomer. Making sense of these sensations is key, often requiring empathy and communication; the band tackle this thorny subject on ‘As Kind As You Can’, examining the moments where relationships are tested and tension is sparked; where a feeling of togetherness falters and the question of drifting apart is raised. Its chorus is a heartrending plea: “Be as kind as you can / If I ever become what you can’t understand.”
The idea of understanding–the very topic of knowledge itself–is the lifeblood that courses through Thin Mind’s veins; learning to live with the barrage of information we take in; the anxiety and thinness of the mind that it can cause; expectations of wider society contrasted with what the individual wants for themself. Stasis vs. progress: going back to where they started surely wasn’t easy, but Wolf Parade make it sound effortless, facing into a new decade, 15 years removed from their lauded 2005 debut Apologies to the Queen Mary and bearing all the hallmarks of a band who have rediscovered themselves. That introspection has resulted in a record made with fresh ears and sharp minds.