© Alison Green

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Daniel Boeckner understands the grit and gravel that accumulates in the heart and that it takes an unwavering courage to crack through that clutter and burrow to the other side. And in Boeckner’s hands, that quest comes via postapocalyptic synth and guitar heroism, a rallying cry for those always coming home through the scorched clouds. Throughout his work with Wolf Parade, Handsome Furs, Divine Fits, Operators, Atlas Strategic, and more, the iconic Canadian indie rocker recognizes that few feelings are more gratifying—more memorable, more generative, more abundant—than hope. But it takes getting the hell out of your own way. A culmination of that deep library of musical reference, Boeckner is set to release his first album under his own name: Boeckner! “I think in a lot of ways in my mind I’m still playing in a punk band in Vancouver,” Boeckner laughs. “Starting back when I was a teenager, my life in music has been trying to develop my own musical language, and this record is the beginning of presenting that.”

No matter where his genre exploration has taken him, there’s something about growing up in punk and DIY spaces that puts collaboration in Boeckner’s blood. Composed of a collection of intimately familiar elements, Boeckner! elicits the same thrill of young passion and discovery. It’s a jet-powered chase through a tech-noir cityscape—fueled by a dream and that special someone in the passenger seat. Boeckner introduces this fused language immediately with the thumping opening track and lead single “Lose”. Buoyed by the scorched space-age synths developed across two records with Operators and the fist-pumping guitar push of Wolf Parade, the song charges headlong into a new world. “Now I’m a walking phantom/ Night watch at the radar station,” Boeckner sings, as if in a race against time to keep hope alive.

That urgency and passion have always been a trademark of Boeckner’s, and writing on his own pushes those feelings further into the center of the scope. But while Boeckner may be the clear driving force behind the album, he’s not without collaborators for his solo debut. After meeting producer Randall Dunn while contributing to the soundtrack to the Nicolas Cage-starring psychedelic horror film Mandy, Boeckner knew he’d found the perfect counterpart for his solo debut. “I’d been a fan of his forever, especially the Sunn0))) records he produced,” Boeckner says. “Working with Randall really unlocked some suppressed musical urges, things that I enjoy in my private life but don’t normally weave into what I’m releasing—like occult synth, pseudo-metal, krautrock, and heavy psych influences.”

Album highlight “Euphoria” dips into that off-kilter darkness, dashes of vibraphone tossed against woozy waves of synth. “It’s too late/ Time accelerates/ From the cradle to the grave,” Boeckner calls like some nuclear fallout Ziggy Stardust, glitching electronics dripping off the mix. The track’s percussive thrum comes courtesy of Matt Chamberlain—whose credits include work with Bowie and Fiona Apple, not to mention a stint as drummer for Pearl Jam—and serves to bolster Boeckner’s potent guitar throughout the record.

That solid base allows Boeckner to thoughtfully weave between emotional imagism and more grounded storytelling. Throughout the record, his imagery delves into science fiction, but it’s charged first and foremost by experience.  “With the exception of early Wolf Parade, I’ve always tried to put myself into a fictional mindset, but with this record, I was tapping into something raw and personal,” he explains. As a prime example, the desperate reach of “Euphoria” is felt in every line, pushed to its titular state only through some unhealthy choices, the gloom drawing near.

The trio of Boeckner, Dunn, and Chamberlain formed a sort of dark engine for the album, and Chamberlain’s ingenious approach of triggering a vintage Arp synthesizer simultaneously with each drum track helped Boeckner shape the record’s atmosphere. That layered shadow colors the acoustic-tinged haze of “Dead Tourists,” a song littered with bad omens—steel-eyed cattle, bodies lined on church pews, overturned luxury cars. That tense futurism was influenced by Boeckner’s time staying in Dunn’s Circular Ruin studio, a dusky, electronic aura singed into every track…He often found himself falling asleep under the synth rack in a sleeping bag, looking up through a tiny skylight at the Brooklyn lights, the faint thump of Daniel Lopatin recording his latest Oneohtrix Point Never record next door coming through the wall.

In addition to tapping into his own rock roots, Boeckner brought in one of his personal guitar heroes. “As a teenager, I imported cassettes of Medicine’s flawless shoegaze noise records, and I absolutely loved Brad Laner’s sandblasting, Chernobyl guitar,” he says. And while Boeckner first reached out hoping Laner would contribute to one track, the Medicine guitarist wound up adding guitar layers throughout the album, as well as helping arrange vocal harmonies. The haunted, wordless choir on “Don’t Worry Baby” stand especially tall in that regard, Laner delivering Boeckner’s writing through his trademark Medicine guitar ravage.

“This record is like an autobiography—Atlas Strategic music concrete synth explosions, lush synth stuff from Operators, the noise guitar from Handsome Furs, drawing influence from everything from Stockhausen to Tom Waits all at the same time,” Boeckner says. And as the record fades away on the low-slung “Holy is the Night,” the mutated skyline fades away, replaced by blue skies “after the plague.” No longer a sci-fi epic, Boeckner! eases into something more akin to a torched VHS copy of a John Cassevetes film, the chemtrails and nuclear fallout fading long in the distance. “How much pain can we deliver before the sunrise, baby/ Holy is the night we can get some peace,” he sighs. “How much blood can this world want from you and me together?” Like all good sci-fi, the emotion and pain hits home for the author and listener alike, and genre flourishes there to bolster the human experience. And in revealing more than ever before, Boeckner! both ratchets up the musical intensity to unforeseen levels and hopes to find some peace at the end of the journey.



Sub Pop Records(2024)