Operators – Blue Wave (Last Gang)
“I keep nobody close to me,” sings Operators’ Dan Boeckner. On the surface, that might appear to be true: this is his fourth new band, following the beloved (and recently reunited) Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, and the (one-off?) collaboration with Spoon’s Britt Daniel, Divine Fits.
“I have faith in the world of destruction,” he offers. Come on, can’t this guy hold a gig? (Kidding.)
Boeckner is nothing if not restless. After the visceral rock of Wolf Parade, he dove headfirst into synths and drum machines in Handsome Furs. His bands always treated touring as an adventure (Burma! Bosnia!) rather than a payday on a well-travelled path. Operators toured for two full years and scrapped an entire album before this debut arrived. Boeckner is always reaching for something better.
In Operators, he’s found it. Here there’s a balance between the claustrophobia and rigid digital synths of Handsome Furs and the organized chaos of Wolf Parade. Operators has a live drummer (Sam Brown) to bring rock’n’roll energy, and an analog synth wiz (Devojka) who ensures that nothing sounds too clean or calculated. Then of course there’s Boeckner, still drenching his voice in rockabilly reverb, still playing jagged post-punk guitar when he can pull himself away from his new keyboards, still an electrifying vocal (and stage) presence.
But here’s the shocker: for the first time in likely more than a decade, Boeckner, dystopian goth that he is, can be heard writing choruses with major chords. A song called “Evil” is, oddly, one of the cheeriest things Boeckner has ever done, with a chorus worthy of the Cars’ first album (or Arcade Fire’s first album, on which Boeckner played some bass). And despite his immersion in drum machines and synths, until now he hasn’t written such a guaranteed dance-floor smash as he has here with “Control.”
Recently relocated back to Montreal from San José, Boeckner sings—in the great tradition of Joni Mitchell and other Canadians—“I love you, California, but you only make me blue.” This comes months after fellow former British Columbian-turned-Montrealer Grimes sang, “California, you only like me when you think I’m looking sad / I didn’t think you’d end up treating me so bad.” Hey Montrealers, what the hell are you doing drinking in L.A.? The lesson here is clear: don’t move to California—unless you at least get a great song out of it by the time you come home. Let’s see what happens to Tim Hecker on his next album. (April 14)
Stream: “Rome,” “Control,” “Evil”