In a profession full of eccentrics and weirdos, Spencer Krug still manages to stand alone.
Since 2005, Krug has cranked out at least one full-length every year, as part of Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, and now Moonface, while also finding time to contribute to Swan Lake. But consistency doesn’t always walk hand in hand with predictability. Album to album, there’s no telling where he’ll take his delivery (there’s succinct Krug, whiny Krug, and rambling, words-foaming-at-the-mouth Krug), production (lo-fi records follow polished records, and vice versa), and instrumentation (piano, squelchy keyboards, guitar, and, uh, marimba).
There’s just no trajectory or pattern with this guy.
An easy comparison might be Swan Lake bandmate Dan Bejar, he also being an odd, prickly Canadian of many projects and curveballs. But I think Krug follows his own muse in a way that Bejar – who has always been sensitive to critical reception – could only dream of.
While both are frequently labeled “cryptic,” Bejar’s self-consciously so; he’s really trying, cognizant of some deeper artistic meaning, however tenuous. In contrast, to listen to Krug is to listen to a man tapping directly into his subconcious and channeling all the shit that comes spilling out, regardless of whether he completely understands it. Sometimes it’s symbolic imagery – snakes and dragons, spirits and ghosts all recur – and sometimes it’s an observation as plainspoken as “Talking Heads makes me miss my friends.”
He is compelled solely by… well, who the hell knows? There’s a sense of each record being created in a vacuum; each punctuated by a sentiment Krug expressed on Expo 86 last year: “It always had to be this way.”
Just read the (highly entertaining) press release Krug wrote for Moonface’s forthcoming debut LP, wherein Krug recounts his desire to purchase “an old double-manual organ” and “make a long, drone-filled, lush and noisy album of intense volume and beauty and poeticism.” But then, “the lush drones did not come. You see, I have a little dude who lives inside me that loves pop music, and he sometimes finds his way into my hands. When this happens, my fingers move toward the catchiest melodies they can, like bees to flowers with the most pollen. It can’t be helped.”
So now we have Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, five tracks of warped pop stretching between 6:30 and 8:00, each gradually swelling from programmed drum tracks to swirling, densely layered organ jams. It’s an odd record, but one with significant charm, an antidote of sorts to the bullheaded cock rock of Expo 86. Gone are the open road anthems, replaced with melodic cul-de-sacs that endear without particularly leading anywhere.
Krug brought this Organ Music to Black Cat Backstage on Thursday night, accompanied by percussionist Mike Bigelow. (Moonface is essentially an amorphous vehicle, allowing Krug to collaborate and tour without the commitment or expectations that come with a proper band.) He was illuminated, as usual, in the comfort of a dim light, in this case a small globe lamp. Further illumination came from a video projected behind him of a performance artist dancing, stripping down, and, eventually, covering himself in baby powder. Krug situated himself behind a big brown tank of an organ, warning his audience early that the finicky beast could breakdown at any moment, in which case we would all be out of luck. (It thankfully didn’t.)
Did Krug sound good at the helm of a monstrous old organ? Yes, of course. He sounded fucking awesome. Did we really need to ask that? The organ lathered in the room in a thick and gorgeous sound. As songs progressed, Krug looped in additional components, intensifying the drone. There was a mesmerizing pull – almost trance-inducing – in the slow-burn of songs like “Shit-Hawk in the Snow” and “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor”.
As Krug sang on the former, “It will hypnotize you.”
And Krug was vocally in fine form: strong, confident, growing more commanding as songs unfurled. As on the record, his delivery was steady and patient, soaking up the music’s leisurely pace and the lurch of the organ. It’s easy to scoff at the long run times of these songs, but if this is what it takes for Krug to slow his roll, I’m fine with it.
But let’s get back to those programmed drums, because, frankly, they’re the only thing denying this endeavor a full lift-off. I can only wonder what prompted the pairing of a majestic organ with dinky 8-bit programmed drums. Perhaps Krug wanted to pair the antiquated organ with something similarly out its time? Or maybe it was the product of home-recording limitations? Regardless, they’re completely chintzy, and even though they’re overcome by the organ and various additions in time, they still begin each song on a jarringly cheap note.
I had hoped Bigelow’s impressive set-up – a digital vibraphone and an electronic drum kit – meant he would be recreating those rhythms himself, but the programmed bleeps and bloops of opener “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor” confirmed this was not to be. In fact, even though Bigelow attacked his set up with relentless efficiency throughout the evening, I sometimes had trouble figuring what he was producing and what was a backing track.
Still, it’s a credit to Moonface that over its seven song set, those beats became less and less of a distraction. (It helps that they were mixed lower – or maybe everything else was just louder – than on Organ Music.) The duo visited all of the LP, as well its lengthy outcast “The Way You Wish You Could Live in the Storm”. When they had run out of original material, they closed the night with a version of Swan Lake’s “All Fires”.
“All Fires” is one of the most straightforward songs in Krug’s cannon, a direct and sweet strummer with less words in total than, say, a Random Spirit Lover verse. Here, it was given a seven-minute Moonface-lift, replete with a surging organ and backing bleeps. It still built to a sing-along climax, but over the crunch of a robotic stop-and-go percussive stomp. Like everything else, “All Fires” walked a fine line between buzzing and cluttered.
The song was interesting way to end the show, leaving audience members with a feint whiff of what if? Specifically: what if Organ Music’s songs had been saved for “proper” Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown recordings? What would they have sounded like stripped down and sped-up?
To which Krug would surely reply: “It always had to be this way.”