The Retrospective

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  • Venturing into Spencer Krug’s Dreamland

    February 10th, 2010 by

    Moon Face Album Cover

    Nobody does self-flagellation quite like Spencer Krug. Come to think of it, the same can be said of everything Krug does. Depending on whom you talk to, Krug is either the most ambitious, daring songwriter in contemporary indie rock or a self-obsessed drama queen, regurgitating the same faux-poetic images from album to album. I for one fall in the former camp. As the mastermind of Sunset Rubdown, co-captain of Wolf Parade, and a contributor to the Swan Lake triumvirate, Krug has seized a reputation as a wildly prolific workaholic. Over the past half-decade, he’s managed to record over a dozen major releases, each one weird and rewarding in its own way.

    His most recent release, Dreamland EP: Marimba and Shit-Drums, is his second record under the Moonface moniker. Perhaps record is the wrong term though, as Dreamland consists of a single twenty-minute track. Though marathon song lengths are not new for Krug, most of his compositions are schizophrenically dynamic, lurching from one musical idea to the next without pause. Consequently, the first thing that will strike longtime Krug listeners about Dreamland is its insistent monotony. A typical Sunset Rubdown or Wolf Parade song is stuffed to the gills with piano, synthesizer, guitar, bass, drums, and contrapuntal voices, but on Dreamland Krug strips the musical carnival down to a marimba, a lo-fi drum machine, and his ever-haunting voice. On paper, it should result in a spare, low-key affair, but Krug still manages to squeeze drama out of these limited resources.

    If the lyrics of Dreamland strike you as abstruse or nonsensical, you’re not alone. As a lyricist, Krug often paints whimsical, dreamlike images, but on Dreamland he indulges this tendency by pulling the lyrics directly out of the dream journal he kept from January through April of 2009. Needless to say, Krug’s unconscious features many of the same tropes that have come to dominate his conscious output. References to Greek mythology? Check (“Sister, show me Cassiopeia”). Magical realist corporeality? Check (“By pushing all his fingers through her skin / He’s just reading her mind…”). Self-loathing? Check (“I hear a voice say that it hates my heart”). Krug’s lyrics often asymptotically approach cringe-worthiness, but the earnestness and expressiveness of his delivery save the day. His songs have always been both intensely personal and indecipherably abstract, so it’s fitting that he turn his lens towards dreams, the one place where abstraction and particularity best collide.

    Spencer Krug
    Photo Credit Fricka M

    Though Krug receives ample credit for his distinctive narrative voice and colorful arrangements, it’s often overlooked that he has an expert’s ear for melody. Though I wouldn’t expect Dreamland to threaten Taylor Swift spot on the Billboard Top 100, it’s nevertheless beautiful and catchy in its own demented way. The marimba is a perfect companion for Krug’s dream-collage. Even when he’s restricted to a single instrument, he manages to cram in interwoven hooks and harmonies. iPhone users may find the twinkling repetitiveness of the marimba reminiscent of Brian Eno’s Bloom application at times. A word of warning though: if you’re as enthralled by the marimba as I was after listening to Dreamland, you’ll be disappointed to discover that the cheapest model on amazon.com runs at about $3,600, so don’t expect legions of Moonface imitators to pop up anytime soon.

    While Dreamland is a rich listening experience on its own, it’s enhanced by an interactive website featuring both the lyrics and the excerpts from his dream journal that inspired the song. It should come as no surprise that the dreams themselves are often even stranger than the phrases he lifts from them.

    Whatever you think of Krug, there’s no question that his mind is a strange and captivating place to spend a few minutes. If you’re new to Krug’s music, you’re better off beginning with Sunset Rubdown’s most recent effort, Dragonslayer. If you’re already a fan, however, do yourself a favor and download Dreamland (it’s available for download in mp3 or FLAC through the Radiohead “name your own price” model), slap on some headphones, and spend 20 minutes exploring the deep recesses of his brain.

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