Wolf Parade's charm has always been found in the push and pull between Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner. As the Montreal quartet's songwriting and vocal leaders, Krug and Boeckner diverge wildly in style, but are equally adept at crafting frantic, jam-laden indie gems. At times, the schizophrenia leads to pure, sublime rock: "I'll Believe in Anything," from 2005's Apologies to the Queen Mary, is perhaps some of the most unnerving, painful, and ultimately inspiring four-and-a-half minutes of rock music of the past decade, complete with the bittersweet, hailing cry of "Nobody knows you/And nobody gives a damn." Even 2008's sophomore slumper At Mount Zoomer, with its pasted-together experimental sound, retained a certain appeal thanks to Krug and Boeckner's back-and-forth dynamic.
Expo 86 is a different beast altogether: A dull plateau of needlessly noisy, organ-greased garage rock and '70s-inspired driving music, Wolf Parade's third studio album essentially renders two wonderfully idiosyncratic vocalists as interchangeable. Though Krug retains the loose, sloppy posturing from his side project Sunset Rubdown, and Boeckner preserves the urgent, fidgeting narration of his Handsome Furs duo, the vocal variations—and with them, Wolf Parade's unique identity—are diminished and unimportant here.
What remains is an above-average rock record of solid, if nonetheless half-developed, guitar-and-keyboard hooks. At its core, Expo 86 is the work of a great band seemingly disinterested in its own existence, its collaborators too absorbed in their side passions to churn out anything more than merely acceptable music. The climbing organ riff in "Oh You, Old Things" is wonderfully greasy, and the swagger of "In the Direction of the Moon" is foreboding and funky, but Krug and Boeckner's artful agony is missing in both. Nothing on Expo 86 comes close to matching Krug's painful, anthemic words on Sunset Rubdown's "Stadiums and Shrines II," where he moans "I'm sorry that your mother died." Or, for that matter, the cool-but-cracked crooning of Boeckner on Handsome Furs's "All We Want, Baby, Is Everything." With its talented voices seemingly bored, Wolf Parade has simply nothing of interest left to say.