I have this running argument with myself about which is more valid for an artist – scant output defined by isolated peaks, or prolificacy with lots of filler. Is it better to be astute and produce only when things are aligned or is it better to spit it all out when you think it and push on? Clearly, Spencer Krug can’t figure out how to go about the former, as albums seem to pour out this guy every time the season changes. As the unofficial hardest workingman in indie-rock, Krug has built an impressive canon of material since leaving Frog Eyes back in 2003.
Wolf Parade’s seminal Apologies To The Queen Mary dropped (officially) in 2005, and since then, Krug has produced an EP and now two full lengths with Sunset Rubdown. If Krug keeps this pace, he should have about forty albums recorded by the time he retires. I wonder, does Krug even remember how to play half the songs he’s written from only the past few years? And with each different band he involves himself in (Fifths of Seven, Wolf Parade, Swan Lake), he leaves a mark that is undeniably his. While Wolf Parade’s constructs are punchy and fused in pop majesty, Sunset Rubdown gives Krug room to craft with a bit more rag and bone.
“The Mending of the Gown” starts the album off with an innocent enough guitar lick. Sixty-seconds later (that’s all it takes for Krug to grow bored of simplicity), it all swells into an intricate traveling carnival, and everything stays there for the rest of Random Spirit Lover. All the tracks gleam with esoteric language, jargon, puns, and accusations. Of course there’s some dense, intricate instrumentation as well (even more so than Shut Up I Am Dreaming), but to me that always seemed like a sideshow to the lyrical swagger of Sunset Rubdown; it’s almost like describing Barry Bonds as a great outfielder. Krug has always been keen on using idioms and cryptic motifs as his paintbrush, and RSL reveals its richness with every listen.
Tales of trickery are pervasive throughout the album, and it continues the chain of lyrical bitterness left over from Shut Up I Am Dreaming (has there been any song written as scathing as “The Empty Threats Of Little Lord”?). It’s never clear who or what Krug is upset at, but he’s at no loss for words. The metaphorical whore, a Krug trademark, makes another appearance here with “The Courtesan Has Sung”. He starts it off by introducing a few characters: an actor, five strangers, and a courtesan. Maybe the five strangers are Wolf Parade, and maybe the courtesan is Wolf Parade as well, who knows. There’s talk of alcohol replacing art (“And when she showed him all her paintings/He said let’s do something racy/Took the bottle from his pocket/It was vodka/Again”), and talk about misrepresentation (“Think of the scene where a washed-up actor/Wipes the make-up off his wife/And says/Morticians must’ve took you for a whore”). It all swirls towards a wrap-around, silvery chorus that cleverly belies the original intent of the song. At this point, Krug has become the master at spitting while smiling, and right now, no one else comes close to his knotty songwriting.
On “Winged/Wicked Things”, Krug takes a few cues from his Wolf Parade gestures, as it sounds like a musical cousin to “Dear Sons And Daughters Of Hungry Ghosts”. Puzzles are introduced (“Well I say it’s just smoke/So you say it’s the hair of ghosts”) and then surrounded by coppery synth and guitar lines that ascend/descend with each other. Religion, or rather the red-herring nature of religion, is another Krug ace card and he gets straight to the point (“The sun wore it white and His Faith wore it thin/Unraveling heavenward/It’s saddled to tiny birds/Or other such winged things”). Towards the end of the song, Krug delivers a repetitious mantra that doubles as a false realization (“So I say oh I see now it’s just smoke”), again delivering a satirical dismissal. The album’s centerpiece standout is “For The Pier (and Dead Shimmering)”, a delirious, hallucinatory five-minute piece that sounds as if the musicians were all turning a gigantic music box, drunk.
There’s no single to be found anywhere on RSL, at least not in terms of traditional pop song arrangements. It’s difficult to know when the verse ends and the chorus begins on most tracks, and there’s even less proper starts and stops between the songs themselves. What happens while you’re listening to RSL is you’ll hear a couple instruments, then vocals, then more instruments, and then it will all collapse on itself and start over again. This happens every five minutes or so. Beelines are of no interest to Krug, as his verses, bridges and choruses all weave and masquerade for each other at any given time. Even within clumsiness there lies a seam and Krug finds them better than anyone; the tracks here bristle with the methodical ornery of someone upturning their desk drawers and slowly sifting through the spilled contents. Structure has never been Sunset Rubdown’s particular interest anyway, as Krug is keener on the sinking and swimming of sounds and stories. It’s this erratic musical arc that serves as the premise to almost every Sunset Rubdown song Krug has written so far. As for the courtesan, she’ll have to sink or swim with the rest of them.
“For The Pier (And Dead Shimmering)” Live