It’s odd, isn’t it, hearing musicians with four studio albums and four EPs under their belt knock out a fifth studio album that doesn’t sound all that far removed from their last? Give Wolf Parade’s latest, Thin Mind, the benefit of the doubt: If a trio of indie rock vets with a proven discography get together to write new material, the resulting record will likely come out sounding pretty good. But “pretty good” is as good as Thin Mind gets—never better, occasionally worse—as if the group (now down a member with bassist and keyboardist Dante DeCaro’s 2019 departure) didn’t learn anything from their 2017 release, Cry Cry Cry.
“Innovation” is a four-letter word in the arts, or at least it should be; irrevocably altering the sonic landscape and leaving the industry forever changed needn’t be the end game for all great music. Great music should speak for itself—to hell with its impact on music as a business. The problem with Thin Mind, insomuch as a highly listenable piece of music can be said to have a meaningful problem, is that never for a moment does it say anything fresh about Wolf Parade: their interests, their personas, their perspectives, the ways that they’ve grown since Cry Cry Cry. There’s improvement, sure, and even refinement, but there’s nothing to Thin Mind that the band hasn’t tried before. Forget about innovation. How about risk?
This is songwriting at its safest—10 tracks of scrappy, synth-layered but guitar-forward indie rock wrapped around ideas about technology—none of them, unsurprisingly, new. Everyone should have the chance to work out their frustrations and anxieties about life in the time of Twitter, where everyone has access to too much information accompanied by a soap box and a bullhorn for broadcasting their opinions on anything, like, say, music.
But Thin Mind treads well-worn ground. If everyone has the means for speaking their mind, then it stands to reason that Wolf Parade have been beaten to the punch ruminating on humanity’s destructive reliance on tech. We’re unhealthily dependent on our smartphones? You don’t say.
At least Spencer Krug, Dan Boeckner, and Arlen Thompson know how to jam. Thin Mind opens with “Under Glass,” an urgent banger evoking images from Stephen King’s Under the Dome: “Like science fiction / We’re under the glass again,” sings Boeckner. “And now I can’t remember / how life was outside on the outside.” The song goes on to reference divisions sown and minds poisoned, putting an emphasis on the notion that our beloved technological marvels have, to date, arguably done more harm than good in the time since we embraced them en masse as a culture. If the sentiment is stale, at least “Under the Glass” has a groove to carry it.
The same can’t be said of Thin Mind’s remaining tunes: at least not consistently. Wolf Parade keeps its chief motifs—of culture trapped by mechanized insularity, of mankind’s love affair with tech—intact, but they don’t follow through with their arrangements. Frankly, the record works best when it’s uptempo; “Forest Green” brings urgent pacing to a tale of creeping, colonialist dread, while “Fall into the Future,” one half a plea and one half an optimistic paean for what tomorrow may bring to our device-plagued world, lurches about, looking for hope in stilted drum signatures but finding none. The contrasting approaches clash, but even Thin Mind’s strongest offerings feel recycled. Think of the record as comfort food for Wolf Parade fans, or as an introduction to the band for the uninitiated, and the unadorned craftsmanship grows palatable. It’s a fine record. It’s even modern. It just isn’t progress.
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.