As a musician, is it more difficult to tackle a number of different projects or to stay connected to one group? In the former case the musician has to be stylistically adaptable, ready to chase down any new sound and coalesce with a wide range of personalities. However a career with one band is an achievement in focused creativity. It requires a deep understanding of one’s preferences and talents and it demands loyalty.
I would argue that the more impressive musician is one who has built an extensive career largely with one band, but, in trying to make that argument, Spencer Krug is one hell of an outlier. He has made important, and in most cases fundamental, contributions to Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, and Swan Lake. His most recent moniker is Moonface, through which he has released an EP entitled Dreamland: Marimba and Shit Drums as well as last years Organ Music not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped. Krug has made clear that while he may be dabbling with various sounds and collaborators Moonface is now his permanent title. With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery seems to corroborate that, as this record sees Krug teaming up with a Finnish krautrock band and departing significantly from the sound of Moonface’s first two records.
With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery is an awkward and slightly misleading title. Siinai were the primary songwriters and Moonface came in later to add vocals, keyboard and arrangement advice. This results in an album that is unlike anything Krug has thus far been attached to. One can see where he had an impact on the sound (the songs are significantly shorter and poppier than most Siinai tracks) but ultimately Siinai’s method is, in many ways, contradictory to Krug’s work: it eschews intricate and morphing arrangements in favor of melodies that develop slowly, naturally, and in a linear progression. Siinai’s work is focused and patient; and perhaps all the more captivating for it.
The vocals are the only part of the album that are Moonface-esque, and even those have changed. Krug sounds solemn and conflicted. With Wolf Parade, Krug’s vocals were notably similar to Dan Boeckner’s, both spritely and slightly manic. On With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery Krug sounds more like his Frog Eyes collaborator Carey Mercer. One can also hear hints of Jamie Stewart and Bowie, which are references that would not have been made in the past. This shift in vocal timbre was needed if Krug was to appropriately compliment Siinai’s driving, methodical sound.
The new tone also fits well with the lyrical content. Apparently, Krug “wrote songs based on his own experiences with heartache, stories told to him by friends, and drummed up scenarios of ill-fated love that were absolute fiction.” Like much of his writing, he develops this subject through obscure metaphors and strangely specific imagery. On the title track Krug notes that “heartbreaking bravery exists” under circumstances such as “when you were next to the wild animals” and “I was the baby still on the tit.” Further, he laments, saying “now I want your sex. But I am not the fox with blood stained lips standing over the kill.” Krug is singing about a love that he was not brave enough or fierce enough to hold on to. It is a delicate sentiment shrouded in a cold, quivering delivery. This dynamic carries through to Siinai’s compositions, which slowly reveals bursts of life from underneath a dense wall of sound.
‘Heartbreaking Bravery’ is an experiment in what slow-burning krautrock sounds like when tinkered with by an exceptionally talented, yet creatively ambiguous, indie-rock musician.
The album’s first highlight, “Shitty City”, opens with both eery and grating synth washes swirling around a distorted, driving melody. The track slowly and carefully builds into a soaring pop arrangement that ultimately peaks with the entrance of Krug’s voice two-thirds of the way through. This is Siinai’s wheelhouse. They excel at patiently evolving their rhythms and melodies, not letting the need to deliver a climax sequester their expansive creativity. Unfortunately, Krug’s influence sometimes gets in the way of that. His penchant for pop creates some rousing highs (“Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips”, “I’m Not the Phoenix Yet”) but it also meddles with the approach that leads to tracks like “Headed for the Door”. The almost 8 minute song rests on a driving, unchanging drum beat that propels the melody forward into epic territory. In the finale, the instruments burst and shriek as Krug reads a letter to a loved one.
As an embodiment of Krug, it is appropriate that Moonface has made three interesting, and largely dissimilar records. With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery is the most ambitious effort yet. It is an experiment in what slow-burning krautrock sounds like when tinkered with by an exceptionally talented, yet creatively ambiguous, indie-rock musician. The result is an album that mostly testifies to the beautiful and brooding music that can result from this relationship; however, one also gets the sense that Siinai are best left to their own devices. But, hey, if someone asked if this experiment would be a good idea would you ever have the gaul to say no?
Stream ‘With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery’ in its entirety here.
This album review is sponsored by Fox Searchlight’s ‘Sound of My Voice’, in theaters April 27.