Perhaps it's a coincidence that Wolf Parade put itself on an innocently innocuous "indefinite hiatus" just as half of its songwriting core prepared to release an album that firmly situated himself as an individual talent separate from that seminal Canadian group. It's probably just as well; Wolf Parade were beginning to look like the new Broken Social Scene, a musical tree from which other acts and talents could grow and develop under its critically acclaimed shadow. The problem was that those side projects were well on their way to eclipsing Wolf Parade itself. Spencer Krug's Sunset Rubdown and Swan Lake "supergroup" have each gained a considerable amount of steam, with the former's 2009 effort Dragonslayer bringing up the awkward question of what happens when one member of a band releases an album arguably superior to anything that band had released as a whole. Dan Boeckner's collaboration with his wife Alexei Perry never received that kind of hyperbolic acclaim, but with Sound Kapital Handsome Furs finally have found the niche that has excluded them for so long, the chance to be their own band and not just a guitarist's vanity project.
Paradoxically, Sound Kapital steps out from Wolf Parade's shadow not with Boeckner's trademark riffs but with his keyboards. On the surface the record is a shackling of creative energies, the pair's idea to write an entire album using just synths and unironic dance beats pushing the guitar back to the occasional accent rather than the driving force. If you think this would sound forced, it does, but not in a way that sabotages the record's aim. Sound Kapital wants to sound industrial, calling to mind dark `80s clubs and merciless backbeats while maintaining a fine pop sheen. The space between the clattering drum machine and buzz saw synths in "Damages" combined with Boeckner's anguished yelps make for a vaguely threatening aura, and it's in this limbo between Eastern European machinery and Depeche Mode darkness that Sound Kapital comfortably makes its nest. It's a tense arrangement, one that makes a straightforward hook like the one in "Bury Me Standing" or the caustic guitar riff (the only prominent one on Sound Kapital and all the more ferocious for it) from "Cheap Music" never boring, never repetitive like too much electro pop.
Much of the credit goes to Boeckner's rebellious lyrics, which stem from his time traveling in third world countries like Burma and the Philippines and color otherwise harmless fare like "When I Get Back." Boeckner has never been the most subtle of lyricists ("Little Golden Age," his best effort from Wolf Parade's last album, was a guileless paean to nostalgia), so when Boeckner barks "diamonds and gold for the idiot sons / all the privileged thieves come and make things run" on album centerpiece "Serve The People," it sounds much less clichéd with the throbbing synths and booming drums than it would with a typically Boecknerian guitar anthem. Hell, if the Soviet "K" in the title wasn't a tip-off, one listen to self-evident titles in "Repatriated" or "Damages" or "Memories of the Future" will have you reading Marx and Brockway. What makes Sound Kapital not mere proselytizing is Boeckner's earnest howl and the way Perry's synths and drumbeats create a faint atmosphere of oppression in a downtrodden, decaying dance club.
It's the perfect fit for Handsome Furs, a tack that would have seemed grandstanding with the group's earlier guitar-oriented sound but now seems like the band's logical direction. Boeckner has always seemed more at ease singing just what he feels without any of Spencer Krug's veiled metaphors and storytelling, and Sound Kapital's anti-establishment bent is as heartfelt and pointed as any punk screed. What makes it special is how those lyrics merge so seamlessly with the rigid drums and retro keyboards and create a product that is as authentic and real as the ideal of the `80s is cheesy and fake. A punk record using sounds straight out of the neon lights of underground European clubs, a style reminiscent of bad haircuts and worse clothes? If this is what we're going to be getting from Boeckner and company, perhaps Wolf Parade can stand to take a break for as many years as it needs to.