Wednesday, June 24, 2009

dragonslayer by sunset rubdown

miracle, n.: an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a work of God.

I'm through beating around the bush with this: Sunset Rubdown is my favorite band. Hands down. No exceptions. I've spent ages in a frustrating state of noncommittal, but it's time I just faced the facts. No other band has ever spoken to me, musically or lyrically, the same way that Spencer Krug's brilliantly left-of-center indie-pop outfit has. What the man can do is astounding in ways I find difficult to put into words. Adjust all expectations for this review accordingly.

Say what you will about 2007's Random Spirit Lover. Ripping on it seems to be the trendy thing to do these days, but I don't care. I still adhere firmly to my opinion that it was not only Album of the Year, but also one of the most exciting and unique releases of the entire decade. Dense, complex, and occasionally frustrating? Yes, but also infinitely rewarding. It was the sort of album that most acts spend entire careers trying to build to, and these guys managed to pull it off on just their second release as a fleshed-out band. Naturally, they had some pretty big shoes to fill. Expectations for a follow-up were immediately set almost unreasonably high.

But now June 23, 2009 has come and gone. The world has finally seen the release of Dragonslayer, that much-awaited third album. And while the tirelessly prolific Krug could have understandably used it as a victory lap, he instead once again cements his position as World's Greatest Songwriter by not disappointing in the slightest. If the bar isn't necessarily being set higher, it's at least being matched; given the great heights at which it was already placed, this is an achievement indeed. The hype surrounding the album is fairly accurate: this is a more accessible, less studio-oriented affair than its predecessor. Don't let this trick you into thinking you're getting something else, though. This is still fundamentally a Sunset Rubdown record. It demands multiple listens to sink in, but Krug is not so unkind as to fail to repay you for your time. New things get discovered with each spin, new lyrical turns of phrase leap out from the speakers, and pretty soon you realize you're in the midst of another startlingly accomplished set of songs.

Rare is the album where I cannot choose a favorite song. Rarer still is the fine breed where at least half the songs on the tracklist could vie for that honor. The haunting piano ballad "Silver Moons" is as gorgeous as anything Krug has ever written, the noisy and feedback-laden "Black Swan" rocks out in heretofore unexplored ways, and "Nightingale/December Song" -- a self-described clusterfuck -- once again pushes the envelope for what studio arrangements the band is capable of conjuring. Still, as blissful as all of these are, Dragonslayer's finest moment may well be the epically titled "Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!" Although steeped in metaphor, the nostalgia-soaked lyrics are among Krug's most lucid to date. By setting them to a lovely, melancholy melody, the result is one of the most unabashedly emotional accomplishments of Sunset Rubdown's career. Let's be honest, though. There isn't a bad song in sight. More to the point, there isn't a song that doesn't approach the sort of excellence we have come to expect from this band. Even the curiously chosen Swan Lake "cover" "Paper Lace" can hold its own without any problems.

For a time, the notion of the band even coming close to matching their past achievements seemed impossible to me. But here they've done it, and done it so effortlessly that it feels like the Sunset Rubdown machine is still only getting warmed up. It must be something of a miracle, something entirely in keeping with my long-standing assertion that Spencer Krug is, in fact, God. So I return to the above definition. Will I live, will I live in said physical world? Of course. And with albums like Dragonslayer to fill it, the living not only becomes easier, but an immense pleasure as well.

mp3: "Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!" by Sunset Rubdown
mp3: "The Mending of the Gown" by Sunset Rubdown


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I completely agree with the writer of this article.. I am professing my obsession with not only Sunset Rubdown but everything I've ever heard Krug get into. He is mostly underrated and is one of a few extraordinary talented musicians of our time. <3

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

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