Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Review: Sunset Rubdown - Dragonslayer (* * * *)

Spencer Krug remains one of the most prolific of rockstars, following the Wolf Parade and Frog Eyes family tradition of joining enough bands that you can release multiple albums per year while somehow keeping the quality level respectably high for almost everything you do. While not everyone loved this year's Swan Lake release, Krug's work stood out as the brightest of the three musicians ( the other two being Carey Mercer and Daniel Bejar) and continued his exceptional musical streak which includes 2008's fantastic Wolf Parade record, At Mount Zoomer. Now, back at the helm of what can hardly be considered his side project, Sunset Rubdown, Krug and his band have created a monstrously great rock 'n' roll album that marks the group's best work to date and showcases some of Krug's best material produced from any of his notable indie music collectives.

Dragonslayer is the perfect title for and introduction to the kind of epic, grandiose collection of eight songs that makes up the record's 48 minutes. Everything here is expansive, overblown, and endlessly entertaining, but somehow focused and refined in a way that Random Spirit Lover was not. Krug has never been one for understatement, but this time around everything is bigger, bolder, and louder - and the results are excellent. Perfectly representative of the record's character is the infectious first single, "Idiot Heart," in which Krug does his best Bowie impersonation over a danceable two-guitar riff and stomping percussion. The song, like many a Sunset Rubdown tune, never stays in one place for very long, but its energetic immediacy is retained throughout the six minutes while each member of the band is allowed some room to shine. It may be the best cut on the album and is certainly among my favorite rock songs released this year.

Elsewhere, Krug and company keep the tempo and style somewhat varied on Dragonslayer and the energy stays in high gear. The bizarrely titled "Apollo And The Buffalo And Anna Anna Anna Oh!" and the lovely "Paper Lace," which Krug borrowed and rerecorded from Enemy Mine, are relatively light and nimble, while "Black Swan" features a more dramatic and heavy-handed approach, but the high-quality musicianship and Krug's improved vocal delivery stay constant. Most of the songs are long and complex, featuring several movements and breaking up verses and choruses with interjected guitar solos and funky keyboard flourishes, but songs like the fantastic and accessible "You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)" keep the record grounded and enjoyable without having to dig too deep into the material. That's not to say that Dragonslayer is easy listening, but the album's combination of guitar-heavy rock with Krug's quirky, signature pop style is both exciting and genuinely entertaining.

The record's final, ten-minute power ballad, "Dragon's Lair" may cross the line into overindulgent noodling, but - once again - it's Sunset Rubdown's sharp delivery and gleeful ignorance of boundaries that helps the record to succeed so completely. And as Krug croons lines like "You're such a champion" with all the fervor he possesses, you'll be glad for the dose of triumphant absurdity that made rock 'n' roll music such fun in the first place. With a few listens and a little patience, Dragonslayer reveals itself to be an exceptional record from one of indie rock's stalwart stars.

Check out Pitchfork to download "Idiot Heart"


Drew said...

I didn't like the album that much. After reading your review I am going to listen to it again.

Chris N said...

I'm glad you're going to give it another shot. It took a couple listens for me, but once it clicked I haven't been able to get enough!