out June 23rd
It’s impossible to talk about Sunset Rubdown without talking about Spencer Krug, the insanely prolific indie rock frontman associated with Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes, Swan Lake, and Sunset Rubdown, to name a few. He founded the band. He’s a dynamic presence on every track. He plays a million instruments. He has one of the most distinctive voices in today’s music. He’s pretty much a baller.
Yet to talk about Sunset Rubdown and only talk about Krug would be an injustice – a fact that has never been more evident than on Sunset Rubdown’s fourth full-length release, Dragonslayer. Sure, Krug’s influence (and voice) can be heard everywhere on the album. But compare this album to Krug’s first solo release under the Sunset Rubdown moniker, 2005’s Snake’s Got a Leg, and you will find yourself doing math with apples and oranges. The band has developed, blossomed, gained some flesh, and distinguished itself enough from Krug’s solo work that the fact that I’ve gone this far into my review of Dragonslayer only talking about him makes me a bit embarrassed. So onto the rest.
The most easily identified influence on the record, other than Krug’s, belongs to Camilla Wynne Ingr, a self proclaimed “Jane-of-all-trades”. Which isn’t to say that the other members aren’t important. It’s just difficult to distinguish who is playing what on the album – three of them play guitar, all five of them play percussion, two play bass and two play keyboard. Doing a little quick math over the permutations tells me that there are about a billion different combinations of those people/instruments. So I won’t try to guess who’s playing what on record. BUT, there’s only one female vocalist – Camilla Wynne Ingr.
The first few Sunset Rubdown releases are adventurous jaunts. They are raw, often simultaneously brilliant and inaccessible. They can also be tiresome to listen to – Krug’s voice is unique to the point of annoyance. But here, on Dragonslayer, he has a sweet foil in Wynne Ingr. She provides the undertones to temper his warble, creating a dynamite combination. Without Krug, the songs would lack the punch that makes them so great. Without Wynne Ingr, the songs would lack the depth that makes them replayable ad infinitum.
Oh and the songs. When I first listened to the album, I didn’t have great expectations. I was expecting an art-indie release = interesting, textured, and good for listening alone in your room and pretty much nowhere else. Wow was I wrong. These songs are good, great even. All but two of the eight tracks clock in over the 5-minute mark, but they are never boring or repetitive. They move, grow, build, gain speed, and other words that mean the same things.
“Silver Moons” slowly opens the album, with Krug’s voice breaking out about 30 seconds in. It’s a lovely track, but merely an introduction. On the next two songs, “Idiot Heart” and “Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!”, Sunset Rubdown really hits their groove. “Idiot Heart” has a melody that is instantly memorable, seemingly already familiar on first listen. It’s like meeting an old friend who you don’t really remember – but they’re so cool that of course you were friends! And oh, that string-backed crescendo toward the end is brilliant! Following quickly on the heels of “Idiot Heart”, “Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!” is maybe the band’s best song ever. It’s full and lush, showing that Sunset Rubdown can slow down their steez and still have the same impact.
Later in the album, “Nightingale/December Song” takes electronica and covers it with lyrics about learning guitar in Nashville. “You Go on Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)” evokes a video-game and has no trumpet. And “Dragon’s Lair” is a 10+ minute album closer that drives home the band’s quirky pizzazz while at times resembling a choral sing-along. Respect the unexpected.
The first time I listened to this album, I thought it deserved a rating in the high 60’s. I thought it was uneventful – interesting, but not particularly great. The second time I listened to it, it revealed a little more and was fairly impressive. I thought it deserved mid-70’s – a very good album from a rapidly improving band. On third, fourth, and fifth listens, I’m pretty sure I was crazy to think those numbers. I find myself loving every track, hard pressed to identify dull moments or lulls in the album. I’ve managed to convince myself that it’s one of the year’s best. It’s in my top 10, pushing top 5, albums released this year. Give it a few spins. Take Dragonslayer for a drive, play it at a party. I think you’ll be surprised.
To enter to win a copy of Sunset Rubdown’s Dragonslayer, leave a comment with your thoughts on the Sunset Rubdown, the tracks you’ve just sampled, or (if you’ve listened to it) the album. Make sure you leave your name/email address in the provided fields! Entries will be accepted until June 23rd