Sunset Rubdown


Rating: 3.5/5.0

Label: Jagjaguwar

Far be it from me to say when someone might be biting off more than they can chew, but just what is it with Canadian artists and their seemingly never-ending string of side projects? The Broken Social Scene cartel I swear single-handedly generates 50% of all Canadian musical exports, while Spencer Krug, in addition to his role in Sunset Rubdown, co-founded Frog Eyes, Swan Lake and, of course, Wolf Parade. It’s tough to pinpoint the source of this Canadian productivity. Cynics could suggest that Canada is such a boring place that the only thing you can do is have a different band for every day of the week.

Here’s my issue with the majority of side-project prone artists: I just don’t feel like they ever entirely commit themselves to one group or another. This wouldn’t be much of an issue except that it means quality suffers as a result, the projects running together or the songwriters involved either rushing out some low grade product to meet a quota or holding back on the good stuff so that the other band has at least one viable single for its album. Krug is an astounding songwriter – this much is obvious – but the sheer quantity of his releases tends to weigh him down in the same way Ryan Adams is weighed down by his similarly nonstop output.

Dragonslayer at least has the outward appearance of being a relatively easy to digest entry in the Krug canon. The structures are dialed down somewhat even from the work he was doing just months ago, while Camilla Wynne Ingr’s sweetly delivered melodies are more prevalent this time around, softening the edges of Krug’s croaky warble. Overall it’s a catchier affair than before, having more in common with the 1970’s glam rock scene than anything contemporary. For the most part, Krug has retained his trademark oddness even when tossing out handsome, coy one-liners like “I’d say I love you/ but I hate this city,” which wouldn’t be out of place in a Humphrey Bogart film.

This is an album that in certain moments is transcendent, as on lead single “Idiot Heart” and the Hunky Dory-era Bowie-aping “Silver Moons,” the shimmery lead guitar riffs and fragile-sounding keys the perfect juxtaposition for Krug’s sandpaper voice. Like all things Krug, it’s also a work that deals in long, intense build-ups that almost always pay huge dividends, like on centerpiece “Black Swan,” which has a full minute of odd percussion and texture before the guitars righteously explode and then die back down again, letting Krug’s vocals seep in like a fever dream amidst the clitter and clack of god knows what.

But there are times where the point is unclear, where the exact purpose of what’s on display is vague at best. Is “Paper Lace” meant to sound like a less polished Vampire Weekend on acid? Does “Dragon’s Lair” really need to go on for nearly 11 minutes? Krug’s apparent desire to pursue every possible idea is admirable in one sense, but it also serves as evidence that he’d benefit from an editor, someone to act as a buffer between impulse and execution before he becomes the heir apparent to Robert Pollard’s throne.

Dragonslayer is a solid work and shows plenty of development on Krug’s part, but given that the artist in question averages two to three releases a year, it’s difficult not to think that each release is only a brief glimpse at that development, which in turns lead to another brief glimpse and another and so on. If Krug were to pace himself and let those brief glimpses become staggered, obvious steps of stylistic evolution, with the weaker moments eviscerated in order for the stronger ones to grow in numbers and prominence, the results could be devastating.

by Morgan Davis

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