Montreal’s We Are Wolves is the exact halfway point between super-cool and super-geeky. They are geek-chic personified, if you will. For every pang of Casio keys, there is a visceral howl or scuzzy riff; for every image of thick-framed glasses conjured up, there is a simultaneous vision of dancefloors swaying to the sound of the very music that does the conjuring.
So it’s surprising just how damn vicious this sophomore attempt, Total Magique, can be at times. First instincts might be to dismiss We Are Wolves as self-consciously spastic, but there’s real vitality here, and real emotion. The opener, a frantic representation of romantic turbulence, is a case in point. And what an opener it is. “Fight & Kiss” is the sort of gem that dance-rock kids’ wet dreams are made of, its nu-rave electro overtures merging into Alexander Ortiz’s gleefully manic yells, drummer Antonin Marquis giving the skins a good pounding all the while. If the track—released as a single in May of last year—is the sonic realisation of a tempestuous relationship, then its refrain of “Wasted all these years / I’ve wasted all these tears / Come and dance with me” also perfectly encapsulates the band itself; the inescapable presence of emotion, not quite enough to surmount the desire to have a good time.
As the album’s peak, perhaps it comes too early. But as an introduction to We Are Wolves, for those who missed 2005’s debut Non-stop Je Te Plie en Deux, it surely cannot be bettered. What’s more, Total Magique‘s qualitative reduction from thereon is a slight, if inevitable, one. Its successor, “Magique” is constructed of similar qualities; undeniable pop hooks glued together with pummelling drums, Ortiz’s wildness and convulsive synths. And if the band’s switch to its second linguistic barrel means that—for the non-French-speaking, at least—the emotional element is less transparent, it compensates by adding a layer of intrigue.
It is Ortiz perhaps, who is the band’s biggest asset. True, his howls occasionally bring to mind the scruffy discordance of the Hives’s Pelle Almqvist—and unfortunately at times can similarly grate—but Ortiz injects We Are Wolves’s music with vivacity and personality on which Total Magique thrives. Hence, it is the glorious abandon of “Fight & Kiss”‘s manic verses and chorus and “Some Words” vocal-led stomp that mark the album’s finer moments, while the least satisfactory are instrumental offerings—“Vamos A La Playa” and “The Piper”—where the troupe’s previous indefatigability seems mislaid.
There are times when Total Magique errs on the side of the uninspired, both insularly—a few too many of its 13 tracks see messy opening waves of synth regimented into a repeated riff to make room for Ortiz’s yelps—and in the broader scheme of things—this brand of electro-rock being hardly a musical revolution (indeed, comparisons with Wolf Parade can be drawn not just on geographical and wolf terms). But generally, as with Montreal’s other synth-molesters, We Are Wolves is idiosyncratic enough to carve out its own little niche; a niche that combines the spastic nature of electro with garage-rock dirtiness and, vitally, a sort of breathless passion.
The sheer ubiquity of its synth can occasionally make it testing for those not so inclined, and the final product fails live up to the promise of its own fantastic opener, but Total Magique is still an enjoyable, forceful free-for-all of danceable electro-rock.