Let’s take a brief overview of Spencer Krug’s musical history thus far. He first came to our attention courtesy of Wolf Parade, their debut album “Apologies to the Queen Mary” having gained enough hype and traction to earn coveted spots on plenty of year-end best of lists. Turns out he already had some irons in the musical fire though, working with Carey Mercer’s Frog Eyes for a bit, and also on some solo material under the name Sunset Rubdown. Krug would return to Frog Eyes for a brief period of time, but his more primary focus was to build Sunset Rubdown out into a full band in between Wolf Parade records. Once that task was completed, he then formed a supergroup with his friends Carey Mercer and Dan Bejar known as Swan Lake. So at this point it has reached 2006 and Spencer Krug is now officially a member of 4 different bands, not including the instrumental project called Fifths of Seven he put together back in 2005. Over the course of the last 6 years then, when you combine all those projects together, Krug has been a major part of 10 full length records and 3 EPs. If that doesn’t seem like a lot of music for one person to make, you’ve got a screw loose. The guy might as well be the new Robert Pollard. Anyways, Krug’s schedule has lightened up a bit these days, as he’s no longer working with Frog Eyes, Wolf Parade is on “indefinite hiatus” and Swan Lake is pretty much a big question mark.
Last year, Krug introduced a new, official solo project that he was calling Moonface. Unlike Sunset Rubdown, there are currently no plans to develop Moonface into something larger than just an outlet where Krug can mess around on his own terms. The debut Moonface released in 2010 was called “Dreamland EP: Marimba and Shit-Drums”, and it consisted of a single 20 minute track that was exactly as the title described. It marked an interesting experiment in utilizing relatively unfamiliar instruments and trying to compose something of substance with a clear beginning, middle and end. Krug’s truth-telling titles continue with the first Moonface full length record, “Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped”. His original plan for the album was to make something more percussion-based, like the EP was, but with some vibraphone and a bit of guitar. The problem was that his attempts were not going well. So the thought eventually evolved into picking up an old double-manual organ and crafting some beautiful-sounding drone tracks with it. Nice though that may be, when you’re drawn to pop music, sometimes the catchy melody bug infects you and there’s no getting around it. Such was the case here, which explains why this record is relatively easy to like in spite of only having 5 total tracks, each lasting somewhere close to 7.5 minutes.
Every song starts with a loop. Often it’s a combination of beats and a few organ notes, all of which set the pace and provide a generous background melody to build off of. Sometimes those initial loops will disappear a short ways into the song to make room for other meandering bits or a different loop, but typically those same loops will pop up again towards the end of the song to bookend it nicely. The loops are more often than not the sole source of a hook on any individual track, even if Krug takes certain phrases and repeats them over and over and over again. On “Fast Peter”, he takes the lines “she’s the one/the one that he thinks of when he thinks of love” and repeats them a total of 4 times in a row, but there’s about 60 seconds of pure instrumental noodling in between each time. Even a line like “as she laid down the mountain” on the track “Shit-Hawk in the Snow”, which winds up being repeated 4 times in rapid succession, never comes up again later in the track. Slightly better are the lyrical moments that pop up at a few different points in the song, functioning much closer to a traditional verse-chorus-verse structure even if the rest of the song is far from traditional. “Loose Heart = Loose Plan” exhibits that courtesy of lines like “Talking Heads make me miss my friends/I’d like to see that face again”, though multiple paragraphs pass by before Krug gets around to the repeat. There’s also not a whole lot of sense to be made from most of these songs, the ultimate points obscured heavily by what appear to be random musings on life and nature and philosophy. Krug has always been a very strong songwriter, but there’s very little in the way of impressive word combinations on this record. Given that the majority of each song is instrumental and that he’s aiming for a hybrid of drone and pop, maybe lyrics were the last thing on his mind. Still, a song like “Fast Peter”, which is the rather brilliant centerpiece of the album, is also the one that makes the most sense story-wise, detailing a tough long-distance relationship.
What “Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped” ultimately has going for it is a rich collection of experimental tracks with a wider appeal than expected. The organ, which is essentially the only instrument used on the entire record, gets stretched to its limits in a number of ways, particularly because after 37 minutes of it the songs start to blend together. Once “Whale Song (Instead of a Kiss)” ends, “Fast Peter” coems in and for a few moments you almost believe it’s just going to be a sped-up version of what came before it, the starting and ending notes being so similar to one another. That turns out to not be the case, but it absolutely brings forth the suggestion that coming up with a good variety of songs was a challenge in itself. Krug reportedly wrote more than twice as many songs for this album, enough for a double album, but decided to cut half of them because they weren’t up to his standard of quality. What’s left is supposed to be the cream of the crop, and while he certainly meant well, what this record fails to equal are the great moments from virtually all of his past efforts with all of his past bands. To be perfectly clear, Spencer Krug is very much a musical genius and he has yet to turn in a genuinely bad album – this Moonface full length is about as bad as he gets, and even then that’s still pretty damn good. Plus, you’ve got to give the guy some degree of credit for consistently trying to push himself in new directions whether it suits him or not. To think that we could have gotten an entire record of vibraphone is actually a little scary at this point. The good news is that what we have gotten with the organ is listenable, at times beautiful, and may send your head spinning (that’s the drone part of it). Krug has said he plans to record a bunch more music before year’s end, Moonface one-time collaborations with friends that will likely be more of a return to the percussion-based sounds of “Dreamland EP: Marimba and Shit-Drums”, but with a twist. Let’s hope whatever comes out of those sessions has more variety and intrigue than the slightly-above-average compositions that are “Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped”.