In the new Mecca of the Montreal music scene, Spencer Krug is an icon among standouts. As lead singer and synth-prog mastermind behind two of the strangest bands to garner followings in the last several years, he’s made a name for himself by fully embracing his adolescent impulses—big emotions in backbreaking songs, all tied together with the charming, slapdash poetry of a literary teenager plugging away on his Livejournal. Krug’s first effort as Wolf Parade, the 2005 Major Statement “Apologies to the Queen Mary,” encapsulated his talents perfectly. After nearly an hour of bipolar funeral dirges and hi-hat rallying cries, it was almost guaranteed that a careful listener had found a name for his sadness.
Sunset Rubdown, an ostensible side-project of Wolf Parade (which was itself a distraction from Frog Eyes), sounds at its best like the better half of Krug. Whereas each Wolf Parade song was an ode to disappointment, in Sunset Rubdown a fiercer energy is present—for every whimper that Krug squeezed out on “Apologies” or “6 Songs,” he answers it here with an ear-splitting warble to the heavens. “Shut Up I Am Dreaming,” the group’s first record, trafficked in menace and wonder. The latest, “Random Spirit Lover,” adds happiness into the mix—and, as a thundering showcase of Krug’s evolution, it takes its place as the group’s most volatile album.
Opener “The Mending of the Gown” starts off with a cheeky and wholly uncharacteristic guitar solo, a distant cousin of the faux-prophet indulgence that Camilla Wynn Ingr, their guitarist, displayed on “Dreaming” opener “Stadiums and Shrines II.” After a minute of whimsical interplay, Krug introduces his by-now familiar trademarks. Bells, holy piano, and siren-like synths swirl around in a semblance of manic awakening.
“Magic vs. Midas” slows the tempo for a faintly aggressive apostrophe: “Was it magic or Midas that made you,” Krug asks, “…and by magic, I mean trickery.”
“Up on Your Leopard” bounces around like a jig at a haunted carnival, bringing us back to the wide-eyed ebullience of “Mending.” This tone can be heard in snatches throughout the record—and, though it never dominates, its singular strangeness in the midst of so much anxiety sets it apart as notable.
“The Courtesan Has Sung” allows a minute of muted chants to pave the way for a rousing climax—listen to it in private and try not to mime the piano.
“Colt Stands Up” and “Stallion,” separate volumes of a single lyrical story, come together and feed off of “Courtesan’s” energy. After that steep an emotional incline, anything safer sounds muted.
And then we get “The Taming of the Hands,” perhaps the peak of the record: a rollicking call-to-arms that includes an ethereal choir, it brings together all that the band has learned with all that they already knew.
It’s safe to say that Sunset Rubdown is more than just a side-project. After two albums of soaring highs and foot-stomping backbeats, Spencer Krug has established a voice that is firmly his own. He has felt everything, and has turned it all into sound; as a proof of his growth since he founded Wolf Parade, “Random Spirit Lover” marks the man as a maverick. Pick up this album, and give his work its due.