Smile Politely

Album Review: Sunset Rubdown, Random Spirit Lover

One might ask Sunset Rubdown’s principle singer and songwriter, Spencer Krug, “How baroque is too baroque?” He might have difficulty providing a straight answer. Sure, most Sunset fans have managed the difficult transition from the “lo-fi/untrained/look and play like you’re homeless” school of indie rock to the contemporary “Hey, we all kinda liked Yes when we were kids and actually playing instruments is sorta fun, so let’s prog it up a little” zeitgeist.

So after the skewed — yet driving — indie pop of Krug’s more famous outfit, Wolf Parade, and the relative lo-fi restraint of last year’s Sunset effort Shut Up, I Am Dreaming, Krug has unleashed his inner Rick Wakeman. Shut Up’s “The Men Are Called Horseman There” provides the closest antecedent to the lineup of songs found on Random Spirit Lover. Most songs stretch over the four-minute mark, filling every available space with keyboard smears, guitars marching like bagpipes and the ghostly echoes of a children’s choir. This studied excess works on the best of the album’s songs, where everything sounds like it’s happening at once. Songs ebb and flow between twin poles of controlled chaos and emotive crescendo.

On a few occasions, though, the high drama spills over into boring pretension. “Colt Stands Up Grows Horns” sounds like the plodding theatricality and empty experimentation of so many lesser bands (see CocoRosie for a cogent example).

But when it works, man does it work. Krug’s trademark control of lyrical imagery and those longing melodies balance against abstraction to communicate an emotional complexity missing from many contemporary bands. A song like “Up On Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days” progresses from affected waltz-time march to a howling lament like a Federico Fellini film moving from the ridiculous to the sublime and — for a moment — all indulgences are forgiven.

1. The Mending of the Gown
2. Magic Vs. Midas
3. Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days
4. The Courtesan Has Sung
5. Winged/Wicked Things
6. Colt Stands up, Grows Horns
7. Stallion
8. For the Pier (and Dead Shimmering)
9. The Taming of the Hands That Came Back To Life
10. Setting Vs. Rising
11. Trumpet, Trumpet, Toot! Toot!
12. Child-Heart Losers

Rating: 8.0

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