At not quite thirty years of age, Spencer Krug has already enjoyed quite a successful and prolific career in music. He was previously a founding member of the experimental rock band Frog Eyes, a touring musician with Destroyer, and a session musician on the debut album from Islands. Currently he is involved with his instrumental group Fifths of Seven, British Columbia all-star indie juggernaut Swan Lake (coming fall 2006), and his most successful project, the critically acclaimed indie rock band Wolf Parade. But this all started with his first, and still most interesting endeavour Sunset Rubdown. With his third release under this moniker, Krug has crafted a brilliant album of sparkling originality, imagination, and unrestrained emotion.
Sunset Rubdown’s two previous releases, 2005’s Snake’s Got a Leg and an eponymous EP released earlier this year, were solo efforts by Krug. Both were very cold, raw, and above all else just plain weird. Each offered glimpses at his tremendous songwriting skill, but suffered from poor production and an overly “lo-fi” feeling. On Shut Up I Am Dreaming, a studio and three new band members have allowed Sunset Rubdown to reach its full potential.
Those unfamiliar with Krug’s work will surely notice his all-or-nothing yodelling, yelping vocal style. His voice has often been compared to the likes of David Bowie and Isaac Brock, but on Shut Up you can hear a confidence and range that he has never before displayed. The subtleties and eccentricities of the vocal performance convey a wide variety of emotions on the album. From the shaky-kneed fear and self doubt of a reluctant hero to the murderous rage of a good man pushed too far...and that's just one song. On the mainly acoustic track “The Empty Threats of Little Lord,” Krug gives a heart-wrenching vocal performance. Building from the line “If I ever hurt you it will be in self-defense,” which is repeated throughout the song, he tells the story of a man finally standing up for himself, but with every step forward, with every threat uttered you can feel the butterflies in his stomach and the sweat on his brow. “I'm Sorry I Sang on Your Hands That Have Been in the Grave” is a spine-tingling tale of a man haunted by the demons of a murder that he committed. You can feel his fear and paranoia as Krug’s voice whispers the confession “There are ones that lie / And the ones that lie underground / The first one’s mine / And the second one I lie about.” This highly emotive vocal style adds so many layers and so much depth to the storytelling nature of the songs.
Many of the tracks on the album have a dreamy feel, possibly the reason for the title Shut Up I Am Dreaming, and this is due in large part to the music which is quite different from the “lo-fi synth-prog” of the first two Sunset Rubdown releases. The album opens with thunderous drums, crashing cymbals, and an overlaying, high-pitched guitar line on “Stadiums and Shrines II.” This is, in essence, a straightforward rock song, but the album covers a wide variety of genres. “Us Ones in Between” is a piano ballad, which is nice to hear from Krug, who is usually stuck behind rock and roll keyboards or effects-laden synths. The aforementioned “I’m Sorry I Sang…” gains all of its frightening atmosphere from the bleak psychedelic waltz sound and the pounding percussion which could symbolize the, real or imagined, footsteps of those pursuing the protagonist, their fists banging on his door. The horror film organs and synth effects on “Swimming” are similarly nightmarish. “Q-Chord” is reminiscent of Brian Eno’s work with Bowie on Low and it serves as a bridge between Shut Up’s epic closing tracks. “The Men Are Called Horsemen There” uses heavy percussion to accentuate the anger and frustration caused by infidelity as well as the wonderful lyric “Where someone says ‘fuck me’ / Someone else says ‘okay.'” Krug has always had a knack for taking banal, clichéd, and sometimes even quite corny lines and making them sound deep and meaningful, and this is a prime example. The album’s final track “Shut Up I Am Dreaming of Places Where Lovers Have Wings” builds from acoustic guitar and quiet percussion into an explosion of squealing guitars and muscular drumming. The cringe-inducing couplet “If I fall into the drink / I will say your name before I sink” is repeated throughout the song, but Krug is able to pull it off with his vocal prowess and it serves as a set up to the closing line “Oceans never listen to us anyway / So don’t make a sound,” which precedes the song’s wonderful instrumental ending.
Shut Up I Am Dreaming is a mind, body, and soul-crushing album as well as the most pleasant surprise of 2006 so far.