Review Summary: Perhaps more than any other album, Dragonslayer epitomizes Spencer Krug as an artist
Spencer Krug is a hard guy not to like. There is just something endearing in the man that makes his songs so likeable. He adds an extra pep that makes Wolf Parade just that little bit better. He’s the ying to Dan Bejar’s... well, Dan Bejar is kind of also a ying, but whatever he adds something to Swan Lake. While his yelpy vocals are at first off-putting overtime they grow on you, nagging at you until you can’t imagine the songs being sung in a different (I’ll refrain from saying better) voice. Through his different projects, Krug has crafted some top-notch and infectious indie tunes. Sunset Rubdown is no exception, and neither is their newest album Dragonslayer
. Like other Krug offerings, this album isn’t immediately infectious. While many of the songs are certainly immediately catchy and likeable, many of the melodies grow on you subtly as you attempt to digest the, at times, lengthy compositions. Plus he attempts the difficult task of using the indie faux-pas decade of the 70's as a reference point; and since he succeeds we have all the more reason to like him. Everybody likes an underdog.
The refrain in the second half of the epic center piece “Black Swan” encapsulates the rest of the album perfectly. After the first half alternates somewhat awkwardly between brooding percussive verses and sudden bursts of distortion in the chorus, Krug and back up vocalist Camilla Wynne Ingr repeat the line, “My heart is a kingdom / The King is a heart / My heart is a kingdom / The King of Hearts.” This type of clever wordplay is frequent throughout the album and this line in particular showcases the fairytale themes that reverberate around the stories in the record. Like a lot of Dragonslayer
, “Black Swan” also features a meandering song structure that never necessarily moves from Point A to Point B but still maintains a sense of direction and organization. The ten minute epic album finale, “Dragon’s Lair”, takes this template to extremes; and it’s all the better for it. Never building into any suspected climax, the song starts with a dark carnival piano line and strained vocals from Krug. The drums and guitar slowly fill out into a full out stomp, before quieting back down into a pitter-patter. The song changes tempo and a spacey keyboard line wails in the background for one more refrain before the album slowly closes out. Those keyboard lines are an important part of the overall sound of the album, especially that 70's vibe.
The keyboard, whether playing arpeggios on “Apollo and the Buffalo And Anna Anna Anna Oh ” or giving carnival-esque lines on the slow build of “Nightingale / December Song”, is as integral to the music as Krug’s voice. While guitars, drums and other instruments (check out the tabla at the beginning of “Nightingale...”) all play important roles, the album just seems to be lifted by the keyboard / piano lines. They also have the feel of the golden age of 70's prog, at times drifting into Emerson, Lake and Palmer territory (“Come and see the show!”). Krug is also smart to inject more modern practices, like expressionistic guitar stabs that flavour the female vocals on the militaristic stomp of the opener “Silver Moons”. Elsewhere, Krug places a bit of a reggae guitar line at the beginning of “You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II). Through this he manages to reference the 70's instead of living in the decade. While mixing the old with the new is far from original, especially in the present state of the indie community, when it’s done this well, who needs originality?
Perhaps more than any other album, Dragonslayer
epitomizes Spencer Krug as an artist. It can be immediately be off-putting, but with time it grows on you. Upon the first few listens, I was trying to gain a feel for the album and something just wasn’t clicking. The songs were all impeccably crafted, but they weren’t settling in. Perhaps it was due to the thick storytelling; like I said, fairytales and such. Maybe, and probably more rightly, it was because Sunset Rubdown seem to make albums first and foremost, instead of songs. Albums are always harder to digest then singles (duh). Either way it wasn’t until a few days after my third or fourth listen, whilst standing at the empty cash register by myself, that the album started to click. As the store speakers quietly played Sheryl Crow in the background I began singing the refrain at the end of “Black Swan” to myself. Then it hit me and I slowly began to feel the urge to listen to the album again... and again. The subtle melodies began to make their way out of the woodwork and into my brain. I became more in tune with the music the fourth, fifth and sixth time around (naturally, I suppose.)
It certainly is not as difficult of a grower as say Grizzly Bear’s newest, Veckatimest
has enough hooks in it to grab a hold of you upon first listen. But that first listen might come across as ordinary. The meandering song structures and obtuse vocal passages can seem be disjointed at times, but as with most good things you just have to give it time to settle. Because any indie album that has fairytale theme deserves to be given time to grow, don’t you know. So lets chalk this one up as another stroke in the victory column for Mr. Krug and company.