Friday, 25 May 2007

Album Review: Shut Up I Am Dreaming

Between the Wolf Parade EPs and their acclaimed album, Apologies To Queen Mary, his work with Frog Eyes, the first Sunset Rubdown EP and album, and now this, it seems increasingly likely we're witnessing in Spencer Krug the genesis of an important songwriter.

The first Sunset Rubdown album, Snake's Got A Leg, was lo-fi from necessity and underdeveloped out of neglect, and certainly didn't hint at what might follow. The transition from barebones solo sparsity to the full-blown band grandeur of Shut Up I Am Dreaming is tough to countenance and hard to immediately appreciate.

In fact, the new album opens with Stadiums and Shrines II, a track that includes the same lyrics and melody as previous album's title track. Enforced by the presence of a band, it's slightly cleaner and less warped than before, beginning with cascading arpeggios that descend from crashing snares and cymbals. Krug's bashful lyrics set the scene perfectly ("There's a kid in there / And he's big and dumb / And he's kind of scared"). The echoes from Krug's previous work are everywhere, but the resampling is not unpleasant and, in fact, is a weirdly satisfying opportunity to view his work from varying angles.

The reinvention continues with Swimming, a giddying fugue with tingling piano and haunted-house music that is built around a music-box reprise of The Dust You Kick Up Is Too Fine from the Sunset Rubdown's debut EP.

A complex treatise on mortality, pride and guilt, the album is riddled with modesty. So, while Krug's passionate, piercing vocals might sound like self-pity elsewhere, here they sound remarkable. The lyrical brilliance is couched in colloquialisms, informalities, rampant contractions and line-starting conjunctions, just as a Pynchon or a Kerouac or a Vonnegut might do. It strips the album of all its self-importance, so that Krug's morality tales aren't preachy, they're inspiring.

They Took A Vote And Said No offers the most overt lesson in morality ("There are things that have to die so other things can stay alive"). It begins with Krug's voice flitting back and forth, before erupting with a waxing electric guitar. The piano-based ballad Us Ones In Between offers similarly surrealistic morals, when Krug ruminates, "I've heard of creatures who eat their babies / I wonder if they stop to think about the taste", and the chief refrain of The Empty Threats Of Little Lord ("If I ever hurt you / It will be in self-defence") sits between some glorious pseudo-misogynistic lines.

Mystical, creepy and heartrending, Shut Up I Am Dreaming is a forty-five minute shrug by shoulders sinking in emotional quicksand. It's a reminder to all of us from Spencer Krug and his band that sometimes it's okay to dream.

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