Sunset Rubdown was once the moniker under which Spencer Krug released lo-fi solo recordings. The project has long since evolved into a full band, and "Dragonslayer" is the third full-length. The musicianship is unassisted by studio magic, and the songs are left to justify for themselves their own screwy pop-rock existence. Double LP contains digital download coupon for free MP3s of the full album.
Sunset Rubdown's 2007 album, Random Spirit Lover, served up richly orchestrated, baroque suites-- each song awash with melody, counterpoint, and complex dynamic shifts. It was rewarding, but it was also cramped and fussy. And it was long, or at least it felt long. There was also leader Spencer Krug's cryptic wordplay and metaphors; he hinted at a narrative that the listener wasn't in on. Across his many projects (Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Swan Lake), Krug often comes off as brooding, wise, and unknowable-- his music attracts because it's difficult to decode his lyrics and untangle his melodies. However, on his latest Sunset Rubdown album, Dragonslayer, Krug gives us a fluent, easily likable version of his work.
Dragonslayer is a looser Sunset record-- easier to like, easier to understand. Tension used to come from stops and starts in the songs, but now the mood changes between tracks. Dragonslayer shifts from stately formality ("Silver Moons"), to heart-pounding new wave skitter ("Idiot Heart") and anxious, head-over-heels tumbles ("Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!"), but it generates continuity between songs. Dragonslayer still centers on piano and keyboard, with Krug picking out (instead of pounding out) the tunes. "You Go on Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)" in particular boasts a beautifully clean melody. But this song-- like many Sunset Rubdown tracks-- gets more strident noisier as it moves. It's just that Dragonslayer moves forward with more finesse.
Krug's lyrics feel, at first, as knotted and complex as ever. But now it's easier to draw connections and dig around for meanings. Thematically, this album has a lot in common with Random Spirit Lover, as Krug continues to sketch half-told tales of lovers or friends caught in their own recklessness. His lyrics seem formal, but with a natural twist. Krug obsesses over the rare and ephemeral: black swans, virgins, or paper lace, which either burns, fades, or "crumples into ugly shapes" ("Paper Lace"). What seems like a pile of metaphors is just Krug simplifying the world. Actions are products of instinct or fate, always out of our control, easier to describe than understand. It's Krug's way of-- perhaps insufficiently-- interpreting the world without fully taming it.
Take "Paper Lace". It first appeared in sparse, hollow form on Swan Lake's Enemy Mine earlier this year. "Those were good ideas, but they weren't diamonds and pearls," Krug sings while the drums laze to the ending. So his work wasn't done. Here he revamps it into a sinewy, shimmering form. Then there's "Paper Lace"'s sly invitation: "Come be a wild thing." Krug knows things will end (badly), and secretly hopes that it is so. There's no doing laundry together, none of the city buses of Wolf Parade's "Grounds for Divorce", no beer runs in Dragonslayer's world. It's escapist fantasy fiction (though there's only one real dragon, right at the end).
But, that's the way we're used to Sunset Rubdown sounding: fussy, untouchable, otherwordly. Let's not associate difficulty wih quality though. RSL had a greater chance for escape and awe; Dragonslayer was built for performance, and it sounds good live because the songs sound comfortable and straightforward. Sunset Rubdown are best when they are unfettered by those concerns, when they are fully soaked in their own set of thematic and sonic touchstones and could give a shit if they're understood or not.
— Jessica Suarez, June 24, 2009