ALBUM REVIEW: Moonface - Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped

It seems almost obligatory to comment on how Spencer Krug plays in a bunch of bands (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes, etc). His penchant for projects was established...
Moonface Organ Music

B+ | 8.02.11 | Jagjaguwar | Stream | Mog | MP3 | CD | Vinyl

Moonface - "Fast Peter" (MP3)

It seems almost obligatory to comment on how Spencer Krug plays in a bunch of bands (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes, etc). His penchant for projects was established even before his latest nom de record, Moonface. But this latest one, he promises, will be his last – at least until he performs under his birth name.  “Until that day arrives,” he explains, “I will go instead by ‘Moonface’ – the last moniker I have left to exploit.” 

To be honest, Krug has done much of the legwork in reviewing Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, his second release under the Moonface moniker. As if the album’s title – as descriptive as its predecessor Dreamland: Marimba and Shit-Drums – wasn’t descriptive enough, Krug sends along meticulous notes detailing its creation. It started as a percussion-based record, then morphed to a collection of lush drones. It ended up, says Krug, “something between pop and lush drones…dense, but in a satisfying way.” He compares listening to the album, charmingly, to eating a small, heavy piece of cheesecake.

But it wouldn’t be fair to let Krug review his own work, even though he does give the impression that he’d be the first to offer up criticism. Indeed, despite the cheesecake description, the album, which is composed entirely of organ sounds and drum machines, is not nearly as weighty a thing as you might think. Like its predecessor, Organ Music is made up of long, repeated arpeggios, which often evolve ever so slightly across a song’s six, seven, or eight minutes. Punctured, again like Dreamland, by low fidelity drum machines, the organ’s warbling tones sound downright clean, surpassed in clarity only by Krug’s distinctive voice.

Rather than booming and belching pipes, light and flighty notes keep the time across most of the album. Occasionally, like in the opening bars of “Whale Song (Song Instead Of A Kiss),” Krug really plays with the lower end of the spectrum, letting the slow vibrato of impossibly deep bass plunge the song closer to those aforementioned lush drones. Even on that song, however, it is the treble side of things that does the heavy lifting across the top.

“Fast Peter,” one of two real standout tracks, combines these elements best, mixing low and high organs, drum machines, and vocals without ever breaking stride. It’s a recipe that favors Krug’s vocals more than anything else, despite his technical prowess on the ivories. Krug is first and foremost a lyricist, and his words are in the spotlight on this album. “Fast Peter” is a love story in the digital age – “she lives so far away/they only talk on their computers/Peter said he wants to stay a good guy in the world/so Peter’s leaving town/who even does that anymore?/he’s gonna go find a wife that sings for him” – and Krug’s vocals, aided by Sunset Rubdown’s Camilla Wynne Ingr, are compelling and absorbing. The song’s tail end gets tangled up in noodling organ lines that border on self-important, but the front half’s momentum is enough to carry the entire eight minutes.

“Shit-Hawk In The Snow,” the album’s other standout track, takes a different approach, closer to that of early Sunset Rubdown. It’s more halting and abrasive, tinges of the percussive genesis that Krug alluded to combining with heavy metal organ riffs (yeah, I said it) to craft a more soulful organ breakdown. On “Shit-Hawk In The Snow,” the organ upon which the album is built appears in its most traditional form. Krug sounds most familiar here too, especially in his near-chant: “Just looks like any other rock, just looks like any other rock, just looks like any other rock.” It’s the most dynamic song on the record, filled with odd phrases – “watching seagulls in the blizzard makes me see how much I miss her” – flashy riffs, and moody underlying shifts.

It’s tempting to fault Organ Music for, at times, straying too far down the arpeggiated path of self-indulgence or monotony. I think that’s both silly and a waste of time. As Krug himself admits, Moonface is a moniker meant for exploration and exploitation; faulting it for getting caught up in ideas is like lamenting that your bike doesn’t have four-wheel drive. No, you won’t hear these songs on the radio. No, they are not for everyone. But though these songs will appeal most to existing fans of Spencer Krug, newcomers who aren’t afraid of 6+ minute songs and sometimes-hectic instrumentals will find plenty of gems in these 37 minutes. Organ Music is the product of a time in which musicians can easily share their process as well as the end result, and it’s worth rooting through the packing peanuts to get to the good stuff.

Moonface: Organ Music not Vibraphone like I'd Hoped