There were a number of paths to Wolf Parade last year with most of them through other artists. From associations with The Arcade Fire and Modest Mouse to ties with Frog Eyes, they had almost as many established bands directing attention to them as they were channeling through their sound. With Wolf Parade’s success still looming, keyboardist, co-vocalist, songwriter, and founding member Spencer Krug faces a contrasting scenario with his latest vanity effort as Sunset Rubdown. Regardless of the fact that this project predates his much more lucrative pack, Sunset Rubdown is inescapably doomed to introduction and judgment by way of Wolf Parade.
Such a direct connection isn’t necessarily detrimental and is only fair. The project is receiving a lot more attention in the wake of Wolf Parade than it did ahead of them. That’s really for the best since Sunset Rubdown’s debut Snakes Got A Leg wasn’t much of an introduction. Lofi from necessity and underdeveloped out of neglect, that album was a lackluster precursor hardly hinting at the fractured elegance yet to come. An EP released earlier this year helps ease the transition from barebones solo sparsity to full-blown band grandeur with increasingly developed melodies and arrangements but even that progress is at most subtle set against explosive expansiveness of Shut Up I Am Dreaming.
From the onset, Krug seems determined to make Sunset Rubdown more than a novelty. “Stadiums and Shrines II” opens the album with swooning stomp and cascading arpeggios descending down from crashing snares and cymbals. The thundering introduction towers over Sunset Rubdown’s underdeveloped efforts of the past and strains itself upward approaching Wolf Parade peaks. Guitars burn and keyboards bleed into hazy hues of reverie and regret. “I’m sorry anybody dies at all these days” Krug bemoans with the same pulpy palpability that made Wolf Parade’s “I’ll Believe in Anything” so unnervingly awesome.
The following tracks uphold the eminence of such a grand entrance. “They Took a Vote and Said No” hammers a glockenspiel against carnival stomp something like Arcade Fire amped out on all available uppers and doing their damnedest to pound through Swordfishtrombones. Stitching Halloween creep to Casio beep beat, “I’m Sorry I Sang on Your Hands that Have Been in the Grave” swirls its eerie cinematic melody into a slow plod. Spectral soundscapes merge with monstrous guitars over all seven minutes of “The Men Are Called Horsemen There” until both explode into a clangorously cathartic conclusion. Jerky bossa nova opens the closing track and then swells into a much more driving anthem before morphing again into a shuffling indie-dance track. The end result may not be quite as palatable as Wolf Parade, but that band has yet to unleash anything this ambitious.
Such scope of sound plays a defining distinction between Krug’s two groups. Wolf Parade is more straightforward and song-focused while Sunset Rubdown plumbs down deeper into mood and opens itself up to experimentation. Whereas Wolf Parade rushes onward breathlessly, Sunset Rubdown dares to take a breather. “Us Ones In Between” is an outright ballad highlighting Krug’s strength as a lyricist with lines like “you are a waterfall waiting inside a well” and “every lightening rod has got to watch the storm cloud come”. Krug delivers every euphonic line in a craggy croon that crosses contemporary aspects of both Nick Cave and Tom Waits. The Bowie in his tone is inextricable as ever, but here he sounds much more stately and a little less insane. Clanging percussion adds a touch of trademark weirdness but can’t bog down such a soaring sorrowful melody.
No matter how unshakable the side-project slag, that restless pursuit of new sonic territory makes Shut Up I Am Dreaming an invigorating album entirely independent of its illustrious associations. Ultimately Krug’s howling histrionics will prove insurmountable for some but those who overcome or embrace that will reap repeated rewards. Those that thought Wolf Parade’s bigger budget debut pasteurized too much of the freak factor from their earlier EPs will revel in this release and insist upon its ascendancy in the grand scheme of all things Krug. No matter where one falls on that argument, Spencer Krug has clearly established himself as a singular talent in any given guise, group, or effort.