Spencer Krug is a genius. There’s not a whole lot of ways to disprove that statement, except in saying that one person’s gold is another person’s trash, and vice versa. We’re all entitled to our opinions. But one needs only to look at Krug’s track record to find evidence of his brilliance. He was a member of Frog Eyes during their most creative period. He went on to become one of two principal singers and songwriters in Wolf Parade, whose three full-length efforts range from very good to one of the best of the last decade. His solo work as Sunset Rubdown eventually became a full band as well, and everything from Shut Up I Am Dreaming onward has been one fascinating conceptual musical experiment after another. Krug also dipped his ink into the indie supergroup Swan Lake along with Destroyer’s Dan Bejar and Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer, leading of course to more general acclaim. To think all this work, 8 albums and 3 EPs, was produced between 2005 and 2010. Suddenly, it was almost like a light switch flipped off.
Krug introduced yet another new project in early 2010 that he called Moonface. An initial EP called Dreamland: Marimba and Shit-Drums followed closely behind, a single 20-minute track in which he played around with the titular instruments. Late last summer came the first Moonface LP Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, which was yet another effort informed by its title. The album was 5 tracks over 37 minutes, with the shortest song clocking in at just over 6.5 minutes. Much of it was droning, flat and uninspired. It was a true introduction to what Krug truly hopes Moonface will be – a name under which he can try anything and everything his heart desires without being bound to the conventions of traditional songwriting or structures. There is no easy way to define the sound of Moonface, because it keeps changing with each new release and that’s the way Krug likes it. On this new Moonface record, his second in a year, he’s made the choice to collaborate with the Finnish band Siinai, who sound a lot like Explosions in the Sky but with less guitar and more piano/synths.
The end product, With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery, is in some ways a return to form for Krug. With a full band behind him, he suddenly finds himself grounded once more. The songs get shorter, have verses, choruses and hooks, and burst forth with a refreshing urgency. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good though. This is certainly a far cry from the Shut Up I Am Dreaming days where the arrangements were much sparser and in some ways more virile. It seems difficult for Siinai to do anything halfway or minimal, but you’d think that’d lend itself perfectly to Krug’s lyrics, which tend to be flights of fancy involving kings and dragons and wars fought over a woman. Yet these complex and widescreen topics appear to be less important to Krug these days, and the more literal, to-the-point lyrics he tried out on the last Moonface record continue here. “I’ve got the blood/but not the bloodlust you need,” he moans on “Heartbreaking Bravery” amidst shimmering guitars and graceful piano. He’s bemoaning the loss of a relationship because of it, something that’s been a frequent theme in his past songs that gets a more plainspoken turn here. While that works just fine, and “Heartbreaking Bravery” is arguably one of the most beautiful songs Krug has ever put together, the more straightforward lyrics can sometimes be a double-edged sword. “Shitty City” is perhaps the best example of this, with the supremely bland chorus of, “It’s a shitty city now/It’s a shitty/city/now.’ That’s not exactly poetry.
There are a few moments on With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery that are truly excellent both lyrically and compositionally. “Quickfire, I Tried” swirls with carefully considered psychedelia, and “Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips” finds Krug trying to grasp onto shreds of hope amid the ruins of a relationship. In spite of the markedly darker overall mood of this record compared to just about anything else Krug has done with any of his many projects, what really helps make it special is the overall sense of maturity on display here. Not that his other, earlier work was childish and petty, but he’s never really sounded so adult and grounded before. The only unfortunate thing about it is that collaborating with Siinai on a record like this probably wasn’t the best decision to make. Both sides seem to be coming from different places at times, and the album suffers because of it. Still, it remains the best thing Krug has released under the Moonface name so far. Of course the bar was set pretty low there. As he continues to try new things and collaborate with new people, hopefully he’ll find others performing at his advanced and complicated level.