Wolf Parade‘s debut album, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It is a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s. The term “indie rock” has evolved and mutated to the point that it no longer has much meaning, but in the 2000s, it captured a specific sound, ethos, and aesthetic that Apologies to the Queen Mary embodies. It’s a powerful indie rock album that hits as hard today as it first did 15 years ago.
Wolf Parade were formed in 2003 after relocating from British Columbia to Montreal. Comprised of keyboardist Spencer Krug (Frog Eyes), lead guitarist Dan Boeckner (Atlas Strategic), drummer Arlen Thompson, synth player Hadji Bakara, and guitarist Dante DeCaro (Hot Hot Heat), Wolf Parade self-released two EPs before signing a record deal.
As the story goes, Boeckner, then a member of Atlas Strategic, met Modest Mouse‘s frontman, Isaac Brock, while touring together. Having achieved mainstream success with his most polished single to date, 2004’s “Float On”, Brock signed Wolf Parade to Sub Pop and produced their debut album at the Audible Alchemy recording studio in Portland, Oregon. Apologies to the Queen Mary was released in September 2005 to instant critical acclaim.
The 12-track debut blends grit, noise, pop, dance-punk, and rock sensibilities into one euphoric and cohesive whole. Apologies to the Queen Mary features distorted guitars, propulsive drums on the verge of collapse, bizarre yelps and howls, and evocative lyrics about ghosts, death, grief, and the perils of modernity, but it never stops being accessible, catchy, and anthemic. It’s the kind of album that makes you feel at a deep and visceral level. It begs to be played loud. It makes you want to sing at the top of your lungs, whether alone in your room or in the company of friends at a dive bar on a drunken Saturday night. As the journalist Chris DeVille noted in his retrospective review on Stereogum, “Even in private, this album is a rush, and its power is even stronger in the company of fellow devotees.”
Wolf Parade are often credited to be the product of two distinct songwriters. Krug brings the weird vibes and unhinged energy, and Boeckner brings the rock ‘n’ roll swagger and heartfelt anthems. The two are prolific artists who launched various side projects soon after releasing Apologies to the Queen Mary. Krug had Sunset Rubdown, Moonface, and Swan Lake, and Boeckner had Handsome Furs and later Divine Fits and Operators. It is remarkable that they managed to come together to release two more records, 2008’s At Mount Zoomer and 2010’s Expo 86, before going on hiatus in 2011. Wolf Parade returned in 2017 with Cry Cry Cry and released Thin Mind earlier this year.
While Krug and Boeckner may take different approaches to songwriting, in Apologies to the Queen Mary, the two complement and feed off each other’s strengths to produce a unified and sonically consistent record. Krug’s tense and off-kilter opening track, “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son”, for example, bleeds seamlessly into Boeckner’s lo-fi and angst-ridden”Modern World”.
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Deceptively simple and straightforward, “Modern World” is one of Wolf Parade’s greatest accomplishments that shaped the indie rock sound of the mid-2000s. Bemoaning the state of the world, Boeckner sings: “Modern world, I’m not pleased to meet you / You just bring me down.” Underscoring the theme of disillusionment with late capitalism, the stop-motion animated music video features anonymous factory workers performing repetitive, soul-crushing labor, while Wolf Parade play live to entertain them. The band are then made obsolete with the introduction of a new and efficient machine.
“Modern World” is followed by three relentlessly energetic and pulsing tracks, “Grounds for Divorce”, “We Built Another World”, and “Fancy Claps”, until the record slows down with the haunting “Same Ghost Every Night”, letting both the band and listeners to take a breather.
The imagery of ghosts is ubiquitous throughout Apologies to the Queen Mary. In an interview with Pitchfork, Thompson explained that this imagery meant to represent “remembrances of things past, of being followed around… followed by your ghosts.” Boeckner’s mother’s death haunts the record, and while never as explicit as in “Modern World”, technology and modernity are also prominent concerns for the band. For example, Krug sings of “the highway’s endless drone” in “Same Ghost Every Night”, and Boeckner laments “spend[ing] boring hours in the office tower / In a bus, on a bus back home to you” in the infectious “Shine a Light”.
Boeckner tends to be credited for the album’s catchier songs, such as the rollicking “It’s a Curse” and the fist-pumping anthem “This Heart’s on Fire”. But Krug’s back-to-back tracks, “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” and “I’ll Believe in Anything”, showcase his ability to be as accessible as Boeckner. With its “la-la-la” chorus, the former is the type of emotionally honest song that can disarm even the most cynical listener.
The latter – well – it’s not hyperbolic to say that “I’ll Believe in Anything” is one of the greatest songs of the 2000s that helped solidify Apologies to the Queen Mary as an indie rock classic. “I’ll Believe in Anything” is the one song that makes all fans lose their shit at a Wolf Parade show. It’s the one song that sends a rush of blood to your body and makes your chest swell, as you belt out the memorable chorus: “And now I’ll believe in anything, and you’ll believe in anything / Because nobody knows you / And nobody gives a damn either way.”
With the release of Arcade Fire‘s ambitious debut, Funeral, in 2004, Montreal was hyped to be the next big thing for indie rock. Wolf Parade arrived just as the American press was developing a love affair with its northern neighbors, and indie rock was becoming more marketable (leading to the crossover success of Modest Mouse and Arcade Fire). Riding this momentum, Apologies to the Queen Mary was universally embraced, having earned the coveted Best New Music status from Pitchfork (at a time when their arbitrary numerical ratings had such cultural sway that they could make or break a new band) and a Polaris Music Prize nomination in 2006.
As if to rebuke the frenzied hype Apologies to the Queen Mary received, Wolf Parade’s subsequent records got more experimental and challenging. But unlike the myriad of other “Wolf”, “Crystal”, “Deer”, and “Bear” bands that followed in the wake of Wolf Parade, many of which have disappeared into oblivion, Apologies to the Queen Mary stands the test of time. Perhaps Bakara summed up best in a 2008 interview with Spin what makes Apologies to the Queen Mary so endearing. It’s the kind of record that inspires “kids [to] joyously sing along to these depressing things with huge shit-eating grins.” In other words, Apologies to the Queen Mary gives people something to believe in, and that matters.