Roughly a year ago, Wolf Parade – then three years and one album into their return from the five-year hiatus that came after Expo ‘86 – suffered a loss: bassist Dante DeCaro (who first appeared on their sophomore effort At Mount Zoomer) left the band to – in the words of the band on Twitter – “try a new way of living, offstage.” Rather than attempting to replace what DeCaro brought to the team, instead they decided to return to the familiar, refocusing as their original trio of Spencer Krug (who last year retired his Moonface project to focus on performing solo, under his own name, entirely on piano), Dan Boeckner (fresh off Radiant Dawn, his second album with his dystopian disco band Operators), and Arlen Thompson.
Operators’ Radiant Dawn and its focus on the technologically-entrenched dystopian hellscape we live in seems to have had the most influence on the direction their first album back as a trio, Thin Mind – and it shows in nearly every song. Unrest with the current state of affairs seeps into many of the songs here: opener “Under Glass” quotes the vile words of Meghan McCain while honing in on the division people of her ilk sew: “They pull you one way/ They push you back again, I know/ To sow division/ Poisoning minds, poisoning minds, poisoning minds.” Later, “Forest Green” examines our shift away from an organic world and into one dominated by technology: “Farewell to Forest Green/ No more oasis in the Anthropocene/ Only flat black glass,” which also helps solidify “Anthropocene” as the it-word of 2020.
Elsewhere, they tackle modern division in different ways: On “Julia Take Your Man Home,” Krug, as cutting as ever, outlines the myriad crimes of the titular Julia’s boyfriend – the best one is the first: “He’s just sitting at the bar/ Carving shapes that look like dicks into the wood.” It would be a funny song on its own, but Krug transforms the premise into a dance anthem for every girlfriend with a shithead boyfriend she can’t take anywhere and should probably dump already. On the top-notch Boeckner-fronted “Wandering Son,” he mourns the feeling of being physically unmoored – in his words, “Dissolved on the map” – while winking at Roy Batty’s “tears in the rain” speech from Blade Runner, a coy nod to the king of techno-dystopia without being too on-the-nose. Near the end, on the spooky synth-heavy “Against the Day,” the duo trade verses (for the first time since At Mount Zoomer’s “Kissing the Beehive”) to opine the curse of living as actual deathless vampires; near the end, Krug winningly breaks down the curse they’re faced with: “Friend, isn’t it so strange/ How the only things that change/ Are the ones upon the surface?”
In a track-by-track breakdown of the album, Krug noted that they were shocked to remember the kind of sound just three people can produce – and he’s entirely right. Thin Mind is a noisy record, but its noise is closer to that of their final pre-hiatus record, Expo 86, instead of the weird angles all over Apologies to the Queen Mary. Krug and his keyboard do a largely flawless job of taking over the low-end duties of the departed DeCaro, and the three are able to make one of the best-sounding rackets they’ve created together yet. Songs like “Under Glass” hits you like a left-hook with a wailing guitar riff, while the piano-heavy belter “Kind As You Can” feels just restless enough to remain engaging, but just messy enough to feel genuinely exciting – though in moments it feels in danger of losing the plot.
Wolf Parade are impressive in that the members are great at checking the sonic baggage of their side projects at the door when making records with this band, but it feels exhilarating to catch moments that feel so much like those bands. Both “Kind As You Can” and “Against the Day” feel like the only songs that feel like they could belong with Boeckner and Krug’s other bands: moments of dread in the former evoke “The Cave” from the final Moonface record, while the pixelated synth doom of the latter feels like it would have slotted in nicely with Operators’ Radiant Dawn. You don’t need to have heard “The Cave” or “Terminal Beach” to enjoy those songs, but like the in-jokes of the sprawling story web woven by the Marvel Cinematic Universe, recognizing those similarities makes the world of Thin Mind feel that much larger.
Ultimately, every Wolf Parade record will be forced to contend with the long shadow cast by the utterly remarkable Apologies to the Queen Mary, making it hard to ever really figure out how to rate their records alongside that one. Thin Mind’s three-piece splendor makes this one land the closest in spirit to that debut, a sleeker – but no less engaging, fun, or weird – version of the band that created the messy, yelpy “I’ll Believe in Anything.” It’s a really great addition to the band’s lineage – no matter which their other four excellent albums you find yourself comparing it to.