Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover
On Sunset Rubdown’s fantastic 2006 debut album, Shut Up I am Dreaming, frontman Spencer Krug’s song writing was continually described as “innocent” or even “childlike”. If there is one thing that is abundantly clear on Random Spirit Lover, their second long player in as many years, it’s that Mr Krug has certainly grown up in a hurry.
This fantastic follow up sees Krug, (best known for being co-vocalist, keyboardist, and cohabitant of Canadian indie wildlife such as wolf parade, frog eyes, and swan lake) exposed in full thespian glory. The album has an ongoing theatrical theme and is perhaps summed up best in the mesmerising opening track The Mending Of The Gown where Krug sings with unrivalled urgency, “She had a name, she had a spirit, she had a line in the play if you waited to hear it”. These words are delivered amidst five and a half minutes of pure bedlam: bursts of guitar, frantic keyboards, manic percussion, and of course Krug’s unique howl. It will leave you trying to catch your breath long into the second song.
While, at times, Shut Up… came across as having a distinct solo vibe (you could almost imagine Krug holed alone up in the studio surrounded by outdated keyboards and drum machines) RSL, however, sounds like the work of a cohesive unit, rather than a hastily cast ensemble. Another improvement is the increased vocal contribution by ex Pony Up member Camilla Wynn Ingr. While on the debut her barely there back-up vocals added atmosphere, here she plays a much bigger role sharing the vocal duties with Krug, adding even another dimension to their ever expanding sound.
Further distancing Sunset Rubdown from his main band, Wolf Parade, Krug demonstrates a more measured approach to his song craft as well as studious attention to detail. In previous recordings Krug had developed a specific style out of de-constructing songs and putting them back together within the space of a single track. Here, he shows more constraint making the entire album a journey, albeit a highly complex, overload of the senses type of journey.
While his song writing ability was never in doubt, where Krug has improved in leaps and bounds is as a lyricist. He comes across as a lovestruck literature student stuck in the wrong century. Case in point, Up On Your Leopard, Upon The End Of Your Feral Days (jealous much, Sufjan?) Where Krug makes it seem perfectly normal for an indie rock song in 2007 to namedrop ‘Hunters’, ‘Trinkets’, ‘Princes’, ‘Virgins’, and ‘Forsaken Land’. Though the real kick comes after the song breaks down for Krug to assert; “I’m the one who sat at your capture and let the snow fall on this whispering rapture”.
Throughout the album, Krug splits his time between playing the roles of narrator and protagonist. His storytelling is offset with moments of introspection, as well as recounting the types of conversations you imagine poets having with one another. For instance the exchange on Winged/Wicked Things; “Well I say “It’s just smoke.”So you say “It’s the hair of ghosts” So I say “it’s the white hair of Poseidon…” Dude, where’s my car, this is not.
The album is as hyperactive as it is theatrical, and at times threatens to buckle under the weight of so many ideas being packed into each song. However the ambition and chaos ultimately adds to its appeal and in turn makes it all the more endearing. As each song was reportedly recorded in entirety in the order they appear, it’s perhaps even more impressive there isn’t a weak song present. In fact some of the best don’t arrive until well into the second half (see The Taming Of The Hands That Came Back to Life).
From the intimate twinkling piano keys and hushed vocals to grand statements and crashing cymbals, RSL is everything a second album should be: more confident, ambitious, and challenging. While Krug’s unusual vocal stylings and kitchen sink approach to song writing might not be for everyone, the album reveals something new with every listen and is near flawless it it’s flow: the first ten songs lead into the next seamlessly as if they are acts of a play, rather than songs on an album.
While many more words could be spent recounting lyrics or describing instrumentation, for now I’d much rather sneak into the back row of the theatre and experience this astonishing set of songs once more. Perhaps Krug sums it up best when he sings “Chaos is yours, and Chaos is mine”, Thanks Spencer, it sure is and we wouldn’t have it any other way.