Comes in at a jaw-dropping 90 minutes of densely layered music.
How much does a name really matter? With bands, it typically means a lot, but for Spencer Krug, it seems to mean a lot less. When This One’s for the Dancer & This One’s for the Dancer’s Bouquet was announced as the final album by his band Moonface, it resulted in an immediate – but brief – pang of sadness. But if you know about Krug, perhaps one of the most restless art weirdos around, you know that he’s never gone for long. Before Moonface, it was Sunset Rubdown (which, if you’ve never heard, stop right now and listen to Dragonslayer), and Swan Lake, and Fifths of Seven, and his work with Frog Eyes and – oh yeah – his main claim to fame, Wolf Parade. Just because he’s not going to be Moonface anymore doesn’t mean he’s going to be gone for long. But, in case he is, he sure left us a doozy of a record to comb through.
This One’s for the Dancer comes in at a jaw-dropping 90 minutes of densely layered music. Moments of real calm are difficult to come by here, with nearly every moment full of decadent arrangements – woozy drums and delay-riddled keyboards dance along with marimba and sax and vibraphone as though it’s a completely normal thing to do. And this is legitimately two different albums, interwoven rather than separated, existing in bizarre harmony. It’s lucky that Krug is who he is: one of today’s most purely talented people, capable of not just generating such a concept without it sounding completely ludicrous, but of executing it with cohesion.
And it’s not for a lack of sonic difference. The more distinct half, created in tandem with percussionist Michael Bigelow revolves around the character of the Minotaur, portrayed by Krug with aching vocoder vocals. Each of these songs is a fascinating and frequently heartbreaking – but still pretty silly – look at the Minotaur, as he wrestles with his own demons in an attempt to forgive everyone who ever wronged him. This is the most fun, engaging and fascinating section of the album. Krug is versatile with the vocoder, using it as simple augmentation (as in opener “Minotaur Forgiving Pasiphae”) and overpowering force (as in the dancey “Knossos” and the broody “Daedalus”).
All of these use the same box of toys: vocoder, marimba, steel drum, vibraphone and swirling drum pad beats. Playing with established characters sent Krug down a path of rich detail worthy of a day-long Greek mythology deep dive, and these songs are lyrically dense and hilarious. Everyone on the Minotaur’s forgiveness tour gets their own song, from his mother Pasiphae and the white bull she slept with to make him to the ruthless King Minos (“That sadistic inventor did a fantastic job”) and the people of Knossos. His killer Theseus gets a gloriously bitter call-out, his forgiveness seemingly based on the fact that he was, “Just a hitman/ The son of an earthquake maker/ A bare-chested businessman.” Similarly, his bouncy ode to labyrinth maker Daedalus is essentially a list of less fucked-up ways he could have been trapped: (“You made a labyrinth/ When you could’ve just made a heavy door/ And then put it on the mouth of a cave/ And put me in there/ I think you’re crazy.”
Krug saves the big one for last..“Oh, why Poseidon?/ Why a white bull?/…Did the horns come from skeletons of men that you swallowed in Storms?/ Or did you just summon up the very first animal that swam into Your skull?” At times the vocoder entirely disappears in “Poseidon,” as though the pursuit of forgiveness renders him more human.
The other half of the album is based on a different concept, one not as obvious as a song cycle from an introspective Minotaur and his star-studded shit list. These songs may not grab hold immediately; Krug’s lyrics are more opaque here, but, driven more by his inner processes, his words feel more relatable: “You try and you try and you try to get away/ But hatred’s wrapped like a tentacle round your leg,” he sings on “The Cave,” and it feels more universal – which, makes the blended double-album conceit more tantalizing. The stakes here may not be as grandiose as the inner struggles of the Minotaur, yet he manages to make the act of piercing a friend’s ear feel like an impossibly high-stakes event: “All we talked about was overcoming fear/ When we were piercing Aidan’s ear/ We danced around like little deer/ All we had to do was push the needle clear.” Elsewhere, on the noisy, sax-crazy “Hater,” he attempts to make his childish despair seem intense, but still comes up sounding too aware of how silly he sounds: “I scowled at the mountain, I spit at the shore, I sulked at some parties/ It couldn’t bore me more.”
These songs are driven by more human feelings and use more conventional instrumentation. Krug is joined by drummer Ches Smith and saxophonist Matana Roberts, and where the “Minotaur Forgiving” suite is thick with layers of gauze, these feel more like the work of a more traditional band—with a much wider range. The mostly straightforward, rockish “The Cave” and the brooding, organ-heavy “Okay to Do This” were made by the same people who made the bizarre and hard to pin down “Sad Suomenlinna,” and each coexist beautifully. Songs build and recoil differently here, a much needed change of pace from the Minotaur’s heady songs. “Okay to Do This” has a fascinating build that feels like a perfect palette-cleanser after the skittering “Daedalus,” and the tense thrum of “Walk the Circle in the Other Direction” helps tighten the strings that emotionally snap one song later on “Poseidon.”
As daunting as a 16 song, 90-minute interwoven double-album might seem, every minute of This One’s For The Dancer is so pleasurable that by the time the Minotaur resolves makes his final confrontation with Poseidon, you may still want more.
Though Moonface may be dead, This One is more than enough for us to obsess over until his next project.