Release Date: Jun 23, 2009
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
The practical, prosaic, documentarian's way to open a review of the new Sunset Rubdown album would be to note that it’s largely recorded live, and eschews the multiple overdubs of its predecessors, Shut Up, I Am Dreaming and Random Spirit Lover, all the better to reflect the stamping-flailing, wuh-huh-hooing bacchanal of the live-shows (and damn is there a lot of wuh-huh-hooing, when it comes to Sunset Rubdown. ) That seems a little disingenuous, given that Dragonslayer actually opens in medias res, in a personal mythos that could be contemporary, or could be a fantastical past, but either way feels truthful for being so bewildering. Haven’t you ever felt you’re not in Kansas anymore, that your loneliness, or maybe your new love, puts you centre-stage in an epic of your own making, with all your friends heroically ambitious, and wingfooted with youthful arrogance? That’s just the opener, 'Silver Moons', which feels like the culmination of all the doomsaying Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown have been setting to music over their last few albums.
The guitar lick that opened “The Mending of the Gown”, the start to 2007’s critically acclaimed but popularly underrated Random Spirit Lover, introduced what became a wonderful coalescence—Spencer Krug’s bottomless well of creativity with an overpowering full band orchestration. Together those songs made as strong a case for Krug as first rank indie rock songwriter as has yet been made. Last year, when the most well-known of Krug’s many musical projects, Wolf Parade, released their sophomore long-player, he showed a more sinister side while retaining the yelped melodies that first distinguished the group.
Sunset Rubdown's 2007 album, Random Spirit Lover, served up richly orchestrated, baroque suites-- each song awash with melody, counterpoint, and complex dynamic shifts. It was rewarding, but it was also cramped and fussy. And it was long, or at least it felt long. There was also leader Spencer Krug's cryptic wordplay and metaphors; he hinted at a narrative that the listener wasn't in on.
Maintaining the adventurous nature that makes Sunset Rubdown Spencer Krug's most ambitious project, Dragonslayer is a tightly woven and surprisingly effortless listen. Third time's a charm, as they say, and here it seems that Krug has struck that perfect balance between eclectic and poppy. It's a fine line, but Sunset Rubdown tread it well, never seeming too careful and never stepping on a hook with their trademark spiraling solos and splintering changes.
Sunset Rubdown were once thought of as the Spencer Krug solo outlet he pursued when he had time off from Wolf Parade, but it's long since turned into a real band. On this, their third album, Krug obviously tries to capture the group dynamic with a pared-down under-produced set of songs worked out by the band rather than written in the studio. [rssbreak] His tendency to cram a million ideas into every song gets toned down, too, but fans of that aesthetic shouldn't worry; the songs are as intricate and delightfully off-kilter as ever.
At this point, calling Spencer Krug “busy” is a tad insulting. John Mayer probably considers himself crazy busy, but he’s not releasing his third full-length album (with three different bands) in 53 weeks. Krug makes other hardworking musicians seem like lazy chumps. Last June, he released the sophomore Wolf Parade album (At Mount Zoomer), and in February, he released the second album from Swan Lake (Enemy Mine), his side project with Carey Mercer and Dan Bejar.
The hunt is where the heart is.
You know that sinking feeling of getting 80 percent of the way through a new album by a band you've loved and suddenly all you want to do is listen to one of their older albums? You say it's so that you can compare, but really you just want to reassure yourself that they do indeed rock despite whatever you were just listening to. Dragonslayer isn't bad, but it's not great, certainly not compared to Sunset Rubdown's previous effort, Random Spirit Lover. And this is why I'm listening to The Mending of the Gown as I write this.
Through the course of its previous two albums—the first one being, for the most part, a Spencer Krug solo album—Sunset Rubdown has successfully altered its sound with every release. The same holds true with the group’s third album, Dragonslayer, an album that while still maintaining that precociously exciting music, sounds nothing like its previous effort, Random Spirit Lover. And in more ways than one, this is not a bad thing because it showcases a growing and proven band, just beginning to spread its wings.
Of Spencer Krug’s projects, Sunset Rubdown occupies a middle-ground between the more straightforward – and more boring – Wolf Parade and the more experimental Swan Lake. And like all middle-grounds between the two poles of “accessible” and “experimental” (as if the two truly precluded each other), Sunset Rubdown often creates music more adept than either side of the hypostasized dichotomy. This isn’t supposed to place Krug’s projects into a hierarchy; we’ll let others play that game.