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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Summer 2010 Flashback

Posted in Music on June 18th, 2011 by Tom

Last summer I was really getting into a few awesome bands who put out records that set a fantastic tone for my summer. It seems like another age, looking back, and while I don’t have nearly as much idle time, there’s still plenty of great music!

At the time, in very heavy rotation was Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, Wolf Parade’s Expo 86, and Tokyo Police Club’s Champ. I realized today that I have something ‘new’ to share from each of those artists, and I thought it would be fun to do an omnibus post!

Arcade Fire-
So I’m sure everyone is essentially sick of me talking about how much I liked The Suburbs, which is fair, but nonetheless: I’ve been jamming to a decent live recording of that album’s title track, and recently the AF crew did a rearrangement of the emotive centerpiece of that album, ‘We Used To Wait

‘We Used To Wait’ [Rearrangement for WBEZ]
[ mp3 ♫ ]

It’s definitely a softer, less aggressive cut of the song, and while I miss the piano, this version is still very full in terms of instrumentation, even as an acoustic track.

Wolf Parade-
Sadly, nothing legitimately new from Wolf Parade. You can hop over to NPR and listen to their Sasquatch set, which is really good. I think there’s a live stream of their last set too, which I heard did not disappoint. Instead, from these guys I instead offer a track from their previous effort, At Mount Zoomer.

I bought the record last summer, but never really sunk much time into it. Feeling nostalgic, I fired it up, and found a lot to like.

‘California Dreamer’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Above is an example, ‘California Dreamer‘ of the epic soundscapes that Wolf Parade so excels at. (9 tracks, only 1 of which is less than three minutes, 4 of which are longer than five!)

Tokyo Police Club-
This isn’t purely TPC, but instead by proxy of their keyboard player, Graham Wright. He has a solo album coming out soon (June 28) titled Shirts vs. Skins which has a lot of TPC’s signature sound to it, and I really warmed up to this track.

‘Soviet Race’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

I can’t tell to what extent I’m supposed to associate it with October Sky, but it’s a lot of fun regardless.

So that’s it for the summer 2010 flashback. Believe it or not, I have some legit album reviews in the works. Kinda had a mini-crisis where I decided I hated everything I was listening to, and had to start fresh with some new material that’s worked out much better.

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2010 Best Of

Posted in Music on December 11th, 2010 by Tom

Read the Full List Here

I’ve been hard at work on my top albums of 2010, and it’s finally done! Head over to the article for the complete list, commentary, songs, etc.

In the next few weeks, I’ve got exams and the like, so I probably won’t have more to share until I get home later in December. Until then, I hope you enjoy the list.


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Expo 86

Posted in Music on June 29th, 2010 by Tom

Today Wolf Parade releases their third album, titled Expo 86 after the famous Vancouver, BC World’s Fair. My previous exposure to the band has only been by proxy, via singer/keyboardist Spencer Krug’s work with Sunset Rubdown. What I lack in perspective though, I hope to make up for in voracity: this album is awesome.

One of the coolest things about Expo 86 is that it has a really unifying sound across all the tracks. By no means is this to suggest they all “sound the same”, but instead that they’re all uniquely crafted musical experiences, just cut from the same cloth. The quality of tracks is consistently above average, but after a battery of listens, I’ve identified a few standout songs.

Early in the record, the first two tracks consecutively improve until the third one, which puts them to shame. ‘What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Has to Go This Way)‘ is rife with quick one-shot guitar solos and fantastic bridge, all layered upon a really powerful synth/percussion backing that made this one noteable; past that, the lyrics made me chuckle, as well as ponder at their meaning:

I wonder if all the beaches
in all your holiday towns
will turn to giant shining earrings against the cheek of the sea
when finally this supernova goes down

I sleep all night with the light on
and dream about the sun
Maybe because of the light
Maybe because of the sun

I got a friend who’s a genius
nobody listens to him

‘What Did My Lover Say? (It Always Has To Go This Way)’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Some really cool imagery in there. Following that is ‘Little Golden Age’, an interesting intellectual tussle with nostalgia, and ‘In the Direction of the Moon’, which is a longer song, slower in tempo, and is perfectly placed in the song list to calm things down a little (not to mention inserting a little lupine-based imagery).

After it is maybe my favorite song on the entire album, and the reason I looked into this album in the first place. ‘Ghost Pressure‘ was released in the lead-up to the release, and remains the strongest among the lot, in my opinion. Along with ‘Pobody’s Nerfect’, which follows it, you have the high point of Expo 86.

‘Ghost Pressure’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The constant repetition of the refrain, with a slight variation in the melody each time, adds a great deal of texture to the song, and the replacement of “little vision” with “ghost pressure” at the end, layered over the original refrain seals the deal. It’s a really interesting sound, perfectly balanced with the synth, that showcases Wolf Parade firing on all cylinders.

My love of ‘Ghost Pressure’ should by no means suggest that the rest of the songs are not great in their own right. ‘Oh You, Old Thing’ is a surprisingly heartfelt addition that momentarily morphs to a dance beat midway through before seamlessly pulling back to the original chord progression. Pair that with the anthemic ‘Yulia’, and you have a perfect sendoff for the manic closing track ‘Cave-O-Sapien’.

From the get-go, this album finds its footing and never looks back. Insightful without being overbearing, Expo 86 is a lot of fun.

Wold Parade – Expo 86.