Spencer Krug has released 9 full-length albums since 2005, which is more than 1 a year, and all but one of those albums has ended the year at #1 or #2 in the Vague Space albums of the year, including the #1 each of the past 5 years. His bands have had different names -- Wolf Parade the most famous, Sunset Rubdown my most favorite -- and the sounds have been varied, from the straightforward rock stylings of Wolf Parade to the organ explosions of last year's Moonface release, but the distinctive tenor of Spencer's musings has remained in tact throughout. And they've all been pretty close to perfect. On April 17th, Spencer's 10th full-length will be released on Jagjaguwar, and it's his collaboration with Finnish post-rockers Siiani that he recorded last fall. The difficult title of the effort is Moonface: with Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery and it was with great excitement that I downloaded the album via pre-order through SC Distribution last week. And I haven't stopped listening since.
First off, it's a great album, which is of course not unexpected for a Spencer release. But it's also not a Spencer album, not really, it's definitely heavily influenced by Siinai, who supposedly wrote all or most of the music. As such, Spencer's contributions may have been limited to just his voice and his lyrics, which are by far the highlight of the album. I don't know Siinai at all and so I can't speak to their music otherwise, but there is definitely a plodding nature to some of the songs, which don't quite reach the grandeur of say, a Sunset Rubdown release, and the single song that Spencer doesn't sing on (10,000 Scorpions) is by far the worst track on the album. That all being said, there are some amazing moments throughout, and the first three tracks are absolutely brilliant.
The album starts with the stark title track (Heartbreaking Bravery), a haunting rumination on love -- or the realization that his love is not quite what he wished it would be. "I'm afraid you are the kill" is delivered so effortlessly but so perfectly in Spencer's quavering tone and the backing music is more subdued than any other song on the album, in a wondrous way. I tweeted when I first heard the song that I wondered if I could love an album 30 seconds in. And I still love this track. The second song, though, the even more heartbreaking "Yesterday's Fire" may be even better, and may be my favorite on the album. The entire songbook is a story about a failed relationship and this song's lyrics are so striking and perfect, the pain of a breakup, the shattering pain mixed with memories of their love and lust, all blanketed by an almost Sunset Rubdown-esque musical vibe that is just incredible.
A piece of fool’s gold next to an empty vase;
I’m too old for you anyway.
And I know you’ll disagree
Because you know that you’re pretty when you lie
"Yesterday's Fire" blends right into the extended drone of "Shitty City" that last 2 minutes and someone on the Wolf Parade Forums mentioned that it sounds like Holy Fuck, which I think it does, and I think I love it, especially when the music stops and Spencer returns for a closing 2 minutes that may also be the best on this album.
We should have gotten smart
We should have gotten good
We should have gotten out
Of this town
While we could
"Quickfire, I Tried" is strong as well and "I'm Not the Phoenix Yet" sounds almost like an unreleased track from Wolf Parade's At Mount Zoomer, but 10,000 Scorpions doesn't work for me and "Faraway Lightning" is also not among my favorites. Which leaves the closing three song coda as the key to whether this is simply a great album or another all-time perfect Spencer record. And at this point, I'm a little undecided. At first listen, I was blown away by "Headed for the Door" and "Lay Your Cheek on Down", the two songs that blanket the already released "Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips," a straightforward Expo 86-ish rocker which is easily among the best songs I've heard this year. But on subsequent listens, the repetitive drumbeat behind Spencer's sonorous voice on the 7 1/2 minute "Headed for the Door" is not all that appealing. Likewise, the bombast on "Lay Your Cheek on Down" starts to border on cloying by the end, which is not something you could ever say about anything Spencer ever released. So I don't know. They are either great songs or are just missing the mark. They sound better on headphones, where the textured layers are more noticeably brilliant, but something about that drumbeat on "Headed for the Door" is keeping me from loving that track and without it, as perfect as the opening songs and "Teary Eyes" are, I'm not yet ready to call this one of the greatest Spencer albums. Admittedly, last year's Moonface release -- which sounds nothing at all like this album (this is why he "created" Moonface, to veer from one sound to another on subsequent albums) -- last year's release wasn't nearly as good as anything he'd done on Sunset Rubdown or most of Wolf Parade but was still my #1 favorite album of the year. So even a slightly lesser Spencer is still better than pretty much any other band. And for that, I remain grateful for his genius.