Poor Wolf Parade. The Montreal band were unquestionably both blessed and cursed with their stunner of a debut, 2005’s “Apologies To The Queen Mary.” It was a collection of twelve songs that seemingly came out of nowhere and gained the band an ungodly amount of praise from both fans and critics alike. It established Dan Boeckner and Spencer Krug as songwriting forces, capable of composing songs that were at once deep and anthemic, with tracks like “Shine A Light,” “I’ll Believe In Anything” and “Modern World” pounding their way into the hearts of many. Their spontaneity and seemingly effortless sound marked them as a force to be reckoned with.

Of course, this put a great amount of pressure on the band to make jaws drop with their second album. 2008’s “At Mount Zoomer” saw the band go in a different direction, and while songs such as “Language City” and “Call It A Ritual” recalled some of their best work, many felt that the album was too over indulgent and that the band was trying too hard. As such, it received generally positive, but underwhelming, reviews and it led many to believe that they could never recapture the magic of their debut.

Boeckner and Krug spent much of their time after releasing “At Mount Zoomer” with their respective side projects, Handsome Furs and Sunset Rubdown, releasing two very good albums in the process. However, many wondered whether the prolific front men could bring that kind of focus and quality back to their main band. Thankfully, those concerns can be put to rest, as the group’s third album, “Expo ’86,” shows Wolf Parade at the top of their game. While it is hardly a return to form, they have crafted an album full of memorable songs that build upon their strengths and that demonstrate a cohesion that was sorely lacking from their previous release.

In interviews about the recording process for “Expo ’86” Boeckner said “This record was definitely the most fun I’ve had recording a Wolf Parade record, ever,” while Krug described the sound of the album as more fun and containing songs that he would want to dance to. This implies that Wolf Parade decided to approach the album in a more organic way, and it shows in their overall sound. The band recorded the instrumentation live, straight to tape, in much the same way that Sunset Rubdown’s “Dragonslayer” was produced, and it makes for arrangements that sound just as big, urgent, and memorable as they were on “Apologies To The Queen Mary.” The band sound more unified than ever here, abandoning the instrumental over indulgences that plagued “At Mount Zoomer,” making for an album that is immediately more accessible and loose.

From the opening notes of “Cloud Shadow on the Mountain,” it is evident that the band had fun playing these songs and that they are no longer taking themselves too seriously. The guitar parts and synth lines hit all the right notes, and the song is loud, fast and exuberant. In terms of overall sound, though, the biggest change in “Expo ’86” is that almost every song here is upbeat, with the rhythm section arguably playing more of a role than it ever has before. A perfect example of this is found on highlight “What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Had To Go This Way),” where drummer Arlen Thompson provides a foot stomping beat and bassist Dante DeCaro rounds things out with a catchy line. All the while, Krug yelps away, and the chorus chant of “It always had to go this way” establishes this song as a number that one could easily find themselves moving to. Additionally, on this album, the band strike a balance of guitar antics and synth notes that play off one another quite beautifully, evidenced by songs like “Pobody’s Nerfect.” Krug’s lyrics remain as dense as they have always been, while Boeckner keeps his tales more grounded. Each song writer brings something unique to the table lyrically, which only contributes to the band’s charm.

One of the beauties of “Expo ’86” is that while all but two of the songs surpass the four minute mark, there is nary a second wasted here. There are many nuances and layers of depth to the arrangements. Each musical movement fits in with the overall flow of the songs, as is the case on Krug’s “In the Direction of the Moon” and “Oh You, Old Thing” While many will argue that Krug is the better of the two front men, Boeckner shows here that he is every bit as capable as his band mate. “Ghost Pressure” and “Yulia” are among his best songs. The former contains a great chorus, while the latter is a direct and straightforward rock song that sounds earnest and heartfelt. The album closes on an extremely high note with the oddly titled “Cave-O-Sapien,” where Krug gives another great vocal performance, and it contains an immensely memorable arrangement filled with many twists and turns that is nothing short of exhilarating.

In an interview with Pitchfork, Krug explained, “We’re embracing our strengths (volume, disorganization), not trying to be fancy, not overthinking anything– just going with our initial instincts and hoping for the best.” With this album, Wolf Parade have done just that, crafting an album that displays their inherent talents. While it may not have the same mystifying effect that “Apologies To The Queen Mary” did five years ago, “Expo ’86” is a joy to listen to from start to finish, and demonstrates a band rejuvenated after a slight misstep. It is an exciting album that rewards repeat listens, and is filled to the brim with great songs. As it turns out, sometimes it’s best for a band to just have fun and do what comes natural.