My Recent Obsession with Spencer Krug

Posted in Music on July 30th, 2011 by Tom

For some reason the past two weeks in the lab were backed entirely by a Sunset Rubdown / Wolf Parade soundtrack, and I don’t really know what motivated that decision.

That said, I realized that for whatever reason the content on the blog does not really reflect my love for Krug-related projects, and so it seemed that a post was in order.

Of particular interest this week is yet another resurgence of interest in Sunset Rubdown’s 2009 effort, Dragonslayer, and the furhter fruition of my investigation into Wolf Parade’s backcatalog.

Beginning with the former: Dragonslayer a phenomenal work of art. Characteristic of that project’s past output, there is a plethora of mythical imagery woven into a densely layered narrative, the internal consistency of which remains to be determined. What I mean by that is simply that Krug’s lyrics obviously suggest some over-arching story, but it’s difficult to tell if it is done in such a way that the listener can even access such a story.

Even still, the artistic effect it renders does its job. A perfect example of this is the oft-posted but still relevant ‘Apollo and The Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!‘.

‘Apollo and The Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The song mentions that the narrator is the buffalo, but also that the buffalo was “rode into extinction.” This apparent inconsistency is even further complicated by the character of Anna, who “played guitar while the rest of us fell in love,” as well as changed her name, for some reason unknown to even the narrator.

The object of the song is referred to as “you hunter,” and the buffalo as a “prize,” which is curious because Artemis, Apollo’s sister of legend described in the song as “a Runaround Sue”, is traditionally associated with the hunt.

So you can see how there are a number of fun, intricate little connections to be made here, but it’s somewhat vague as to what, if anything, they mean.

This proves to be pervasive throughout the rest of the record. Every last song containing at least a few of these mythical or fantastic references, and each track is somehow linked to the greater narrative of the album as a collusion.

The previously posted ‘You Go on Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)’ is in truth the spiritual successor to ‘Trumpet, Trumpet, Toot! Toot!’ from the Sunset Rubdown’s preceding record, Random Spirit Lover, which I haven’t gotten the chance to spend much time with, but if history is any lesson, I will become obsessed with it and post something three years after the fact. But this song also puts on the airs of containing a rich backing history entirely inaccessible to the listener, which only serves to strengthen its appeal, albeit in a slightly frustrating manner.

Finally of note here is the closing track ‘Dragon’s Lair’, also linked in the previous SR post. First of all, it occurred to me only recently that ‘dragonslayer’ and ‘dragon’s lair’ are homophones, an effect that is perfectly utilized in the song’s ambiguous application of either term. This track, besides being trademark 10-minute aural-bonanza punctuating the end of most of Krug’s albums, is notable for the wide variance in tone between the dirge-like pace of the piano line and Krug’s increasingly bombastic vocals. This all bolstering a wide swath of rich lyrical content:

But my dear, oh my dear
I’d like to fight the good fight for another couple of years
‘cause to say the war is over is to say you are a widow
You’re not a widow yet!
There’s a swan among the pigeons of Barcelona’s floor
There’s a Samson with Delilahs lining up outside the door
If you are sharpening your scissors
I am sharpening my scissors,
And I am sharpening my sword
But I have navigated Iceland
I’ve laid my claim on Portugal
I have seen into the wasteland
Oh the future
Oh the future of us all
So you can take me to the dragon’s lair
You can take me to Rapunzel’s windowsill
Either way it is time, oh it is time
For a bigger kind of kill…

So go listen to that record more than a few times. It has more depth than the majority of music out there. Next up an even older record, Wolf Parade’s At Mount Zoomer.

I won’t even beat around the bush here: excepting perhaps the eternally radio-friendly ‘Language City’, the best song on this album is also its 10-minute finale titled ‘Kissing the Beehive’. I’ve omitted analysis here because I understand it even less than I do the SR material.

The only real ‘boring’ song on this album is maybe the opener, ‘Soldier’s Grin’, and that’s only because each of its peers on the album has something so distinctly unique to offer that you forget this passable track almost instantly. The songs get progressively more theatrical, but the one I’ve chosen to share today is the last ‘light’ song before the album takes a dark turn.

‘The Grey Estates’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Again, I can’t really claim any insight into the meaning of the song, but it contains probably my favorite Wolf Parade verse:

So let the needle on the compass swing
Let the iron in your heart’s blood ring
Strike up the band as the ship goes down
And if it’s loud enough, they will erase the sound
Of one hundred thousand sad inventions
Let them rot inside the grey estates

Iron in one’s blood ‘ringing’ is a really cool idea to me, and the allusion to the band playing as the ship goes down evokes (even if wrongfully so) that famous story about the musicians on the Titanic. Finally, why we would want to erase the “sound” of 100,000 sad inventions ‘rotting’ inside of this “grey estates” is beyond me, but as before the mystery and ambiguity are what make the ideas so enticing.

After that, ‘Fine Young Cannibals’ and ‘Animal in Your Care’ leading into ‘Kissing the Beehive’ act as a progressive spiral in to the dim half-light that ends the album. It’s something that takes a lot of patience to really embrace, but definitely worth the ‘work’.

In the past two weeks, I must have listened to each of these records 8-10 times, and I’m still not bored of them. Even if Wolf Parade is done for the moment, I have high hopes for the next Sunset Rubdown album. Krug’s most recent solo album actually was just released, and even in the opening track we can trace the lineage back through his previous works:

Organ Music (Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped)‘s opening track, ‘Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor’ mentions

Or the terrible glimpse of a shark
Within your idiot heart

pointing us to Dragonslayer‘s ‘Idiot Heart’, which in turn contains the line

If I was a horse I would throw up the reins if I was you.

A line directly from Shut Up I Am Dreaming‘s ‘The Men Are Called Horsemen There’.

If you dare to venture down the rabbit hole of the Spencer Krug metaverse you are almost certain to find something interesting. At least that much I can promise you.

Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer
Wolf Parade – At Mount Zoomer

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Posted in Music on July 18th, 2011 by Tom

So I have a weird relationship with the Strokes. The radio singles off of Is This It are bastions of my early adolescence, and I always think of them fondly, despite never having really committed any time the full album (I didn’t listen to albums back then! It was Napster-times).

Their sophomore effort, Room On Fire, was a staple of my sophomore year in high school, right when I was first getting into music. Rock-sold opening set of tracks, and then rest weren’t bad either.

I was really bummed about First Impressions of Earth though. There wasn’t anything to really anchor me to the record, and so I was just kinda “meh” about the whole thing.

So where does that leave me now? Historically, the Strokes are still batting well above .500, but they’d been out of the game for a while, and their most recent record seemed (to me) to perhaps indicate why. For old times sake, though, Angles seemed worth a shot.

The opening track of the record, ‘Machu Picchu‘ is one of the best songs I’ve heard this year. The attitude and spunk with which the song is delivered really makes it seem like the band had something to prove; a task which I’d say the accomplish with flying colors. Not to mention my favorite guitar riff on the album over the chorus.

‘Machu Picchu’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The first single, ‘Under Cover of Darkness’ also sounds great. It’s perhaps one of the best examples of everything we known and love about the Strokes. Noodly riifs, percussion that’s not afraid to go a little wild in places, and everything that Julian Casablancas brings to the vocals, it’s all there.

Those are the two easiest tracks to digest, everything else is a little… more. ‘Two Kinds of Happiness’ bounces back between a Cars-homage and a soaring, bombastic Bono-type affair; they pull it off, the track is pleasant to listen to, it’s just a little odd. ‘You’re So Right’ is a creepy song, not in content so much as sound; good, but again kindof odd.

The other song I wanna share is ‘Taken For A Fool‘, because it has a really cool grove to it. This once more has a pretty distinct departure of the verses from the chorus, but I think it works a lot more smoothly, and the track comes off as really polished.

‘Taken For A Fool’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

My favorite part is the little ‘run’ at around 1:30 into the second verse. The following song, ‘Games’, is essentially “The Strokes Do The 1980s in Just Under Four Minutes,” which I mark as the last really noteworthy track on the album.

‘Call Me Back’ is a pretty plain downer slow track, ‘Gratisfaction’ a desperate grab to recapture Queen-era sheen (at least it’s not MIKA-bad though, ugh…), and honestly I don’t remember anything else about the last two tracks despite listening to them 5 times, so whatever.

Somewhere out there is a quote from one of the members about how the record’s name came from the fact that everyone took their own approach to writing materials for the record. Suffice to say, it shows. There is a lot of interesting, creative work going on in Angles, but there is next to no cohesion between any of the songs.

The Strokes have proven quite handily that they are still relevant to the music scene that they helped build, but it remains to be seen if they are still the best at what they do.

Now that they’re “back”, they’ve mentioned in interviews that they plan on getting another album out ASAP, which I think is the right mentality. It’ll be interesting to see what these guys can produce when they aren’t coming off such a long hiatus and are actually working together.

The Strokes – Angles


Something To Die For

Posted in Music on July 4th, 2011 by Tom

I’ve had this record since around the time it came out; I was actually really anticipating its release. Maybe it was because that happened to be when my school semester got especially hectic and the weather particularly awful, but for whatever reason after 2-3 listens I was of the opinion I didn’t like it at all.

Sometimes I can be so fickle about stuff, and I’m really glad I spent the past week giving this record a second chance. There a lot of fantastic songs here for fans of the Sounds and their genre of revivalist New Wave and synthpop.

The record opens with ‘It’s So Easy’, a little half-song that slow-builds, ramping the synth ever thicker. It’s nice exposition, and I always appreciate a little thought going into a creative album opener. ‘Dance With the Devil’ is a good example of the main problem with this record, which is that it was tailor-made for whatever dance-scene this music sustains. On headphones, it’s really underwhelming, to be honest. Unplug them, though, and pump it through any halfway decent speakers and suddenly the tune comes alive!

That said, there are far more impressive individual tracks, greatest of which is the title track, ‘Something To Die For‘, which we talked about back in March. The album features a slightly different mix of the track with a melancholy lead-in that really suits the song in the greater context of the record.

‘Yeah Yeah Yeah’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The first half of the record is a steady climb in song quality, with the other single ‘Better Off Dead’ being another bright spot. ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah‘ is perhaps the artistic limit of how much artificial sound can fit in a song and still have it sound good. The shouting chorus and the bouncing bassline are again at their best when blasted through the air, complete with Ivarsson’s patent nonsensical lyrics. If they meant anything… well, we’ll get there in a second.

‘Won’t Let Them Tear Us Apart’ was a huge, huge disappoint to me, mostly because it’s so good. With one exception: the backing vocals on this song are just stupid. The rest of the band’s collective falsetto ‘Listen! Hear it!’ are the most distracting, obnoxious thing on this record. If you could somehow surgically remove them from this song, it very well could be the best four minutes on the entire damn album. Frustrating, but still enjoyable on average.

The last two songs take us in a different direction for the album, but not necessarily uncharted territory for the band. ‘The Best of Me‘ is a heartfelt song about growing up that, maybe because I’m a disillusioned 20-something, I really related to:

‘The Best Of Me’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The vocals cut like a knife and actually have a coherent message/story for once. This was the type of material that was just barely hinted at in 2009’s Crossing the Rubicon, and is advanced another small step here. Pairing the bounce of synthpop with the boilerplate melodrama of a normal indie rock song plays out with delightfully surprising efficacy.

I’ll state here that this track is my metric for future Sounds records. They need to find the groove of this type of song and run with it. Will they ever be ‘music that matters’? I hope not, because that would mean all the fun had been drained from it. They certainly have the opportunity for more depth of emotion, however, and I’d like to see that in subsequent efforts.

The Sounds – Something to Die For