Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
Spencer Krug’s songs are instantly recognizable as Spencer Krug songs. Often times ballad-esque, they hybridize glam, pop, folk, and new wave influences into something that gives the appearance of having been off handedly created, of having been slapdashidly assembled with ease. His music rarely, if ever, demonstrates the visceral thrill of ‘rock music,’ while managing to embody the emotional release provided by the best rock music.1 The cumulative effect of listening to his albums is of familiarity. His songs sound like something we recognize without sounding like anything we’ve ever actually heard. It’s pop music of a highly abstracted, emotional sort, filtered through one of the most idiosyncratic psyches working in the field.
Krug’s Lyrics have always been ornate and tapestry-like, with the text drunk driving on the highway of emotion that his delivery provides. He has a novelist’s eye for character, setting and mood, and his songs are largely narrative based. What separates him from a thousand other skilled songwriters is that his narratives are wrapped in and often shaped as puzzles. This continues in full force on Dragonslayer: characters appear late into songs and their seemingly minor actions have enormous significance. Krug repeats the same lines in different songs, and the recurring archetypes that define his characters touch on magic, animism, failed royalty, hunters, actors and horses. His lyrics beg you to ask what’s compelling him and they give you a thousand clues, but no answer. The listener is left with little idea of what his songs are about, but if you are like this reviewer, the act of experiencing his music at the dinosaur brain level offers limitless reward. In other words, we oftentimes have no idea what his songs mean, but oh, they mean so much to us.
The first track, ‘Silver Moons,’ opens with the line:
“Confetti floats away like dead leaves in the wagon’s wake. There were parties here in my honor until you sent me away.”
Time’s passed and it continues to pass, repeatedly, throughout the album. The present rarely occurs on this album outside of its relation to the past, which pretty much defines Dragonslayer. A sense of otherness pervades it. The lyrics, more often than not, seem to come from an empty space between the past and the present. Krug creates a sense of the past that’s full of a celebration of great deeds and idyllic bliss, while never explaining the references in detail. Ultimately, what he creates feels like a fiction within the closed world he creates, or a lie the unnamed narrator is telling himself.
The first verse of ‘Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!’ ends with:
“My god I miss the way we used to be.”
Before leading into the strangely catchy chorus:
“Here’s a photograph for you to hold. It’s my picture right before I got old. It’s a picture of a buffalo that we rode into extinction. That was the crime we committed in the night”
The song ends with a minute fifteen outro in which Krug and right hand lady/multi instrumentalist Camilla Wynne Ingr repeatedly lament: “Anna, Anna, Anna, Oh! Why’d you change your name?”
1. Think of what was probably the first Spencer Krug song I fell in love with, “I’ll Believe in Anything” from the Wolf Parade album Apologies To The Queen Mary. The song has this stilted, chatty, near magical quality. The song plods until it explodes, in its final third, into something that’s beyond language. Coincidently or not his language is, by and large, beyond language in the song. The lyrics are borderline nonsense but his delivery infuses them with so much meaning that it just breaks your heart….or at least mine.
Dragonslayer heads into its final third with ‘You go on Ahead (Trumpet, trumpet II)’ a centerpiece of a song if there ever was one, close to six minutes of up-tempo, percussive new wave. It’s a moving song beyond all belief, a love song about surrender and separation, not love.
Midway through he intones: “So wait, you’ve got to wait… you’ve got to wait for me.”
The song heads into a close with the double tracked and repeated line:
“And the days add up to weeks, add up to months, and add up, and add up… to years”
It is the nadir of the song and probably the album as well.
Musically, Dragonslayer is proof that Sunset Rubdown is a band, not a project. Their most cohesive album, the songs feel, despite their complexity, as if they were played, not constructed. They are melody driven with vocals, keyboards, guitars and even drums playing melodically. Guitarist Michael Doerkse shreds arpeggios and the 2 drummer set up of Mark Nicol and Jordan Robson-Cramer use this great, dry, Steve Gadd tom sound to excellent layered effect. The ace up Sunset Rubdown’s collective sleeve is Camilla Wynne Ingr, who sings backing vocals that feel like she’s beside Krug, never behind him. Her repetition of lines, often out of time with Krug, acts as a type of punctuation defining the emotional scope of a song while spicing its sonic palette. Like I said earlier, Sunset Rubdown never rock in any traditional sense. Krug just doesn’t write songs built to sustain that. Dragonslayer’s songs are studied mechanisms with verse, chorus verse structures that obfuscate their intentions rather than parade them: ‘Idiot Heart’ is as plodding a pop song about dancing could be with at least 2 mallet instruments playing over a track that sounds like what the term modern rock meant in 1989.
Dragonslayer feels as much a non-statement as statement. It didn’t need to, but it cements Krug’s reputation as one of the most highly skilled and highly productive songwriters working in Indie Rock today. It’s the latest report on his auteur-esque vision which only deepens and becomes more thorough with each release.
Mark Gluth drinks tea, listens to music, writes, rides his bike, plays video games and walks his and his wife’s dogs. His first novel The Late Work Of Margaret Kroftis is being published by Akashic/Little House On the bowery in Jan, 2010.
You can purchase Dragonslayer from the Jajaguwar label