Tag Archives: Sunset Rubdown

TDOM Day 30: Your Favourite Song At This Time Last Year

Sunset Rubdown – Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!

Okay, so our thirty days have elapsed. It’s been sporadic, but that’s because I’ve been studying and doing exams and that sort of thing. How did I do? Kind of you to ask! Well, two of them were as good as I could have hoped and two more were okay. The last one hasn’t happened yet. It’s in David Foster Wallace and I am shitting it because I have no idea what to expect.

The first song, you might remember, was from Sunset Rubdown’s Dragonslayer. So is this one. Because this time last year I was locked into Dragonslayer several times a day, if I recall correctly, and this particular song was my favourite. So there you go. Full circle.

TDOM Day 01: Your Favourite Song

Sunset Rubdown – You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)
(Dragonslayer, 2009)

It almost seems unfair to start this thirty days of music thing with something as patently unanswerable as “your favourite song”. I stopped even asking my head for a straight answer on this topic in about 2002. But for the sake of the game, this is my offering.

It starts slowly, almost liked a Final Fantasy/Dodos-style loop build-up, with Spencer Krug clacking a guitar instead of (presumably) half-crouching with intent over a keyboard. Lyrically, it’s a sequel (to Trumpet Trumpet, Toot Toot! from Random Spirit Lover), but somehow in this setting it’s the most poetic the sometimes painfully poetic Krug has ever gotten thus far.

Like the few great monolithic Sunset Rubdown songs, there is always another gear to this song. Every new section ramps it up, not necessarily harder, but more intense, more present. From nothing at the start, to the halfway point, cut with a widdling guitar, by all rights it should climax at 3.45 with the thesis of the song – “you’ve got to wait” – but it keeps going. The outro shows that Dragonslayer Sunset Rubdown are more on it as a rock band than even Wolf Parade have ever been, and when it eventually shuts off after five and a half minutes, I’m a little taken aback every time, even still.

Transcript: Sunset Rubdown

I do interviews for Totally Dublin sometimes. They go up online on their site so I don’t usually post them here, but I thought it might be fun to post a few unedited transcripts of full conversations, rather than the edited ones. This interview was with Spencer Krug a couple of months ago. Afterwards I felt like I was a little static with the questions, and I wouldn’t mind having this one back, given how long I’ve loved his music.

tl;dr: interviews with the boring bits.

Dragonslayer is a much more open record than Random Spirit Lover, were you trying to avoid making something as dense as Random Spirit Lover?

We weren’t trying to avoid anything per se. I think we wanted to try working a different way. Well I know we did. So a different-sounding album came out. Random Spirit Lover was made in the studio, a lot of it was written in the studio, a track at a time, figuring things out slowly and layering things on top of each other, ending up with that lush, dense sound that you’re talking about. Dragonslayer was almost completely written and toured beforehand, we did it like a live record where you throw up mics and everyone plays their part and there are no overdubs. So it ended up feeling more open and more like a bunch of songs, less conceptual. Just sort of rock songs. It’s just a natural product of the way we were working.

Do you think it’s more of a band record than previous Sunset Rubdown records?

It’s a similar sort of mix. The other records are still everyone adding their own things, writing their own parts. The way it always works in Sunset Rubdown is that I’ll have a song, and certain ideas or rhythms or melodies that I’ll want people to do. But most of the time, people are making up their own shit, you know? I think maybe the difference in sound is down to us being more comfortable playing with each other, and maybe people in the band are starting to experiment a little more or be more confident in their playing? I think we’re just getting better at playing, as a band. Everyone’s that bit more confident in their creativity, you know what I mean? We also added a fifth member, which makes for a bigger sound.

To what extent are your lyrics fiction? Or are they fiction at all?

They’re fiction as much as any other lyrics are fiction I think.

I was reading the lyrics to Dragonslayer on your website and the way they’re laid out, some of them read like short stories almost. Do you think of yourself as a writer?

I don’t really think of myself as a writer. I do try to write short stories, and I’m not very successful, but when I’m writing lyrics… I’m not trying to write a short story when I’m writing lyrics, so in that way, no, they’re not fiction. They’re metaphorical ways of describing situations and my own feelings and experiences of life and friends and lovers. I think that’s pretty much what all song lyrics are. I try to have certain elements of poeticism in there, as bad it may be. I try to keep it interesting, for myself and for the listener and for me to sing and for people to hear. So for that reason I end up using a lot of metaphors, and it reads like some sort of weird, half-baked short story. Which I can totally understand, and it’s totally fine, but when I’m writing, it’s not like I’m writing poetry or anything like that. I would never call myself a poet. I’ve tried it, and I’m really, really bad at it. When I’m writing song lyrics, I’m just writing the emotions that the music is invoking in me. I’m thinking of the music as much as I’m thinking of the meaning of the word. Like, the melody, the cadence of the word as much as their literal meanings.

The people in your songs tend to have mythological names, or there are a lot of animal names. What’s the idea behind that?

Those are just concepts and images that… at a certain time they kind of interested me. They’re not meant literally. They’re figurative, they’re metaphors. I end up using a lot of animal imagery or mythological imagery because I guess they’re kind of fascinating or really lush. But I’m not literally singing about a leopard or whatever.

How do respond to the accusation that you’re the hardest working man in indie rock?

I don’t work that hard. It’s not really work. I think there are many, many people writing and putting out as much music as I am, but maybe for a smaller audience. I’m just in this great situation where different record labels are willing to put out records that I’m a part of. And I’m in a lot of collaborations, all these different bands have these really talented people that I get to work with and are kind of a lot of help with making music. Of course, if different labels are willing to put it out, then that’s cool, but there are hundreds of seventeen year old kids in their bedrooms making twice as much music as I am. This “hardest working man in indie rock” thing, there are so many parts to that sentence that are annoying to me. Even the indie rock part is annoying to me. It’s just bullshit, you know? I’m just making some records.

So when you’re writing, do you just write songs and bring them to different projects, or do you write for Wolf Parade when you’re writing for Wolf Parade, and for Swan Lake when you’re writing for Swan Lake? Do you divide the songs up in advance?

It’s more like, if Wolf Parade are active that day, then they’re somewhere in the back of my head when I’m writing music. So when I bring ideas to them, they’re ideas that, when they were formed, I knew that they were probably going to end up being Wolf Parade songs. And then we write as a group, and Sunset Rubdown writes as a group and Swan Lake writes as a group. I come up with the skeletons of songs, with the structure and the lyrics… I try to write these songs so I can sit and play them by myself, and if they sound okay that way then you know they’re probably not going to get a lot worse if you add these other instruments. But somewhere in the back of my head is what band I’m going to be working with next and what they’re good at. Like, Wolf Parade is good at being a rock band. I hate talking about it, because I hate deconstructing it and analysing it. It’s always something that’s happened very naturally, that I’ve been able to be in these different bands, and be an active songwriter in two or three bands. It’s not something that I’ve ever had to struggle to try to split up my creative energies. It doesn’t take a lot of conscious deliberating deciding where songs will go. When I get asked about it I have to start analysing it, and it sounds clinical and kills the magic.

Do you ever see yourself doing an album like the first Sunset Rubdown album again. Like, demos, or at least just by yourself?

I see myself doing solo stuff again. But hopefully it would sound nothing like the first Sunset Rubdown album. I don’t see myself working in that way again or putting out an album like that again.

But you would write and record something with just yourself?

Sure. Probably. I’m definitely not against it. But hopefully I’m moving forward and not backward. Like that early Sunset Rubdown stuff… I haven’t heard it in years but when I imagine what it sounds like, it’s so very very different to anything I would want to be doing now. You know what I mean.

I didn’t mean aesthetically. It’s just that you’re involved in so many different things, but you have done a solo album in the past, and I wondered… is Sunset Rubdown your outlet for that kind of creative control? Or do you need that even?

Do I need what, to work alone?

Yeah, or do you want to?

Yeah, I think the same as any other musician it’s fun when you’re… it’s very different to work alone. It’s much scarier because you’re not bouncing your ideas off anyone, so you don’t actually know… there’s no-one to rein you in. That can be scary and it can be a negative for the music, but it can also be a really exciting way to work. And it’s also just less formal I guess. You can just be sitting around in your underwear at three in the morning. Music is still a hobby, a passionate hobby, as well as this formal thing I do in bands, you know what I mean? So Sunset Rubdown has moved beyond the realm of me doing a lot of solo work. I recently did a 7” record that was under the moniker of Sunset Rubdown, that was just me, but it was more like me just putting out a couple of demos. One of them has already turned into a full band song that will probably end up on our next record. Because it changes so much when you add these things. It becomes such an entirely different song. It’s interesting to have access to different ways of working and to see how much the results differ. Both are rewarding and both can create music that’s hopefully worth listening. So to answer your question, I totally plan on doing more solo stuff in the future. I kind of never stopped. It’s just a question of finding the time I guess.

You mentioned in an interview vague plans to collaborate with Jamie Stewart. I was wondering, two years down the line, has anything come of that?

It’s still a big plan. I was actually just talking to him in June on a Sunset Rubdown tour in Carolina where he lives now. He came to a show and we were talking about it. We’re both just really busy. It’s something we would both love to do. It still stands at the exact same place. A vague plan.

You seemed to enjoy playing Dublin with both Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown. Do you have any impressions of Dublin as a place to play?

People are very warm in Dublin. We have a few friends there too. A warm little crew of people over there who have us over. Dublin is probably the only place I’ve ever played in Ireland. The first time I went to Dublin with Wolf Parade I really loved it, and I’ve loved going back every time. It’s got a chill atmosphere. I love going to the pub and seeing fucking high school kids, sitting around smoking and drinking. It’s not something you really see in America. There’s a sense of community or tolerance or something. Tolerance for partying I guess. That isn’t really prevalent in other places. It’s just this accepted thing, we’re all going to party and have fun together and there’s going to be drinks… that’s a pretence a lot of places try to nurture, but it doesn’t really feel true. It feels true in Dublin.

The Year. 3. Making faces at acquired tastes.


3. Sunset Rubdown – Dragonslayer [CAN]

If you’ve built your career on obscurity, what does it mean to develop confidence in clarity? If your whole oeuvre was predicated on showing just enough but not too much, how do you turn on the floodlights, dust off the cobwebs and still remain what you’ve always been? Dragonslayer is Sunset Rubdown woken up, stretched and ready to be taken for what they are, without overdubs, without obliqueness, without conceit. Well, to an extent. It’s still Apollo kissing the valley girls rather than, y’know, Dave. But at least it’s not secret knowledge. That shroud of mystique has been attractive in the past, but it’s not necessary any more.

The lyrics, tangled in metaphor as they are, are sometimes staggeringly beautiful. Couplets or even turns of phrase alone can be blinding the way a blizzard is, or take out your stomach the way a rollercoaster does. “I’d like to watch the white flash of your heels/As they take turn breaking the desert heat/and beckon me in languages I’ve never learned.”

If you’ve been following Spencer’s mind from project to project, you’ll know Call It A Ritual on the last Wolf Parade album saw him drive, accompanied, into the desert. Is this a sequel? Are these swatches in a great quasi-literary tapestry that will eventually come together and allow itself be read as biography, psychology and not-quite-literature? It hasn’t felt like that much up to now. But with every extra watt of light shed onto the songs, there’s a distinct and ongoing impression of being allowed a glimpse at some hitherto forbidden truth.

And hey, there’s music here too. Apologies if I’m coming off a bit Richard Ellmann in that regard. There are songs. Great songs. Silver Moons is understated and mature, but atmospheric and affecting. Idiot Heart is ALMOST danceable. Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh! is careful and spidery, then nostalgic and celebratory, then slightly sinister and inquisitive. Intelligent indie rock, perfected after three albums, and smelling distinctly of a band on a hot streak.

Then there’s You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II). As smart as Mending of the Gown, as obscurely heartfelt as Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts, as sad as Stadiums and Shrines II, it is, dreadfully aware of this blog’s penchant for hyperbole and ploughing on regardless, a masterpiece. There is no corner Spencer Krug can’t turn in a song, and there is no human feeling he can’t expose once it’s turned. In earnest, if it wasn’t for a misstep or two (Swan Lake adaptation Paper Lace in particular), this would be one place higher, if not at the top outright.

Interview from Totally Dublin. Plenty of Spencerian exegetics on the blog in the past. Sorry if anyone’s missing context for any of the song names and stuff, but I’ve written Krug panegyrics too many times to still do the background.

Confetti floats away like dead leaves in the wagon’s wake.

krug

Some bands you just listen to because you like the sound of their music. Some bands, however, are a little more than that. They make you feel like you want them to get into a war so you can fight for them. They make you understand why scene kids get tattoos of lyrics in curly typefaces.

There are bands that you’re loyal to because it felt like they were loyal to you. Or that’s what it feels like with Sunset Rubdown anyway. Nearly five years ago, Snake’s Got A Leg was there summing up a particular black-hole type feeling. Random Spirit Lover walked me across Liffey bridges more times than I remember, and I probably listened to the Mending of the Gown more times in my first year of college than I actually talked to anyone. And this year, Dragonslayer happened to appear at the perfect time to attach to a particular, tumultuous state of mind too.

A sad fact and widely known, however, is that the most impassionate sound to a lonely soul is so easily outgrown. Nonetheless, Sunset Rubdown have stuck with me, and going to see them live has a little bit more attached to it than, say, Deerhunter or even Deerhoof. So I arrived in close to nine and stuck up the edge to the front to catch a glimpse.

The song that ended the last Sunset Rubdown gig in Crawdaddy, The Empty Threats of Little Lord, opened tonight. Intentional or not, it added an element of continuity and seemed to almost invite you to notice that, such is the quality of Dragonslayer start to finish, songs that were encores in 08 are right at the beginning in 09. And then, before Spencer was even finished denouncing the snake, Idiot Heart, Dragonslayer’s approximation of a danceable indie hit, began clacking sinisterly.

Nearly all of Dragonslayer made an appearance, though notably no Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh. From the back catalogue: Winged Wicked Things, glowing in poetry. The Taming of the Hands That Came Back To Life, upped in tempo slightly and bacchanalian in temperament. Mending of the Gown, through the live mill and still recalling the mad preacher at the pulpit. Trumpet Trumpet Toot Toot was manic too, as usual.

But the best song was a new one, and for me the best Sunset Rubdown song full stop, putting it into “favourite songs in general” in my loose mental filing cabinet as well. You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II). I spent yesterday before the gig tweeting Krug lyrics, but you’d find it tough to top “I’d like to watch the white flash of your heels as they take turns breaking the desert heat, and beckon me in languages I never learned” no matter where you looked. Close to six minutes, it takes turns round corners and through tunnels and off cliffs, but it’s about the peak of Spencer’s five year genius streak.

I always find it hard to write about bands that I’ve written about before at length, but in the end of year review where I vastly underestimated Random Spirit Lover a few years ago I said “Random Spirit Lover sees Spencer Krug split his time between being the demon ringmaster of some sort of keyboard-led musical circus noir and being the hilltop poet of both doom and everyday wisdom.” I stand behind that description still, two years on, now that it’s clearer than Random Spirit Lover is 100 times the record I thought it was, and that Sunset Rubdown have cemented themselves in lifetime pass territory as a Favourite Band

This might be gig of the year.

+++

The child in a grown man’s beard

Sunset Rubdown for me is a freezing winter’s morning, walking from Docklands to Trinity. It’s about 8.40, I’ve missed the train I should’ve been on, and taken a gamble on going to Docklands. By the time I get to college I’m late for my class, I can’t find it anyway, and I have nothing else until 3 or 4. I walk up Grafton St. and have a muffin in Stephen’s Green near the James Joyce statue. The soundtrack to the whole thing is Random Spirit Lover.

It’s hard for gigs to compete with that sort of subjective, impressionistic association. Random Spirit Lover will always remind me of that day, even though it’s not particularly notable. Any live show is going to have to work really hard to replace it.

Spencer is a big ball of some weird energy in person. He sweats ridiculously. Sometimes, when the music is getting to a climax, he stands up with one leg on the stool behind him while he bangs out the keyboard line and yelps. He’s not the best communicator between songs, but there’s no point in real-life talk when you can say what you need to say through animal metaphors and overwhelming wordy brilliance in-song.

I was surprised that some people weren’t crazily impressed by this gig. To me, every song was like a set-closer. The Shut Up I Am Dreaming Stadiums and Shrines was the second song they played. It could’ve been an encore. The Taming Of The Hands That Came Back To Life was a good example of a song that is great on the album, but really, fully comes alive when that weird Spencer Krug energy is imbued live.

The rest of the band are on the same frequency too. Camilla Wynn Ingr’s keyboards and vocals are about 5% of what makes Sunset Rubdown 400 times better than Wolf Parade.

OH SHIT!

Fuck, I said it. Fuck my 2005/6 self. Sunset Rubdown is a completely different level of band. They not only do what they do better, they just work on a different level altogether. The Mending Of The Gown is the best song of 2007 and possibly of the decade so far, despite what I said (or neglected to say) in December, and they ended the set with it. Then, solemn-faced, The Angry Threats Of Little Lord came out for the encore.

Why it wasn’t the perfect gig
One or two songs were not very good.
Support band Speck Mountain said Dublin was in the UK.
Drunken Lout, shut up.

Apart from that, I can’t fault it.

+++

The Year. 20-16

20. Sunset Rubdown – Random Spirit Lover
Jagjaguwar

Random Spirit Lover sees Spencer Krug split his time between being the demon ringmaster of some sort of keyboard-led musical circus noir and being the hilltop poet of both doom and everyday wisdom. I’ve seen reviews of this that haven’t gotten any further than the vaguely kooky sounds that pop up occasionally and I’ve seen reviews that haven’t got past the slightly bizarre lyrical tangents. More than both, I’ve seen ten legions of Sunset Rubdown reviews declare “when he’s not with Wolf Parade, Swan Lake, Frog Eyes, Destroyer, blab”. And I would like to congratulate those reviewers for knowing how to use Google. Sunset Rubdown does not deserve to be left as a part of the overall life and loves of a busy indie journeyman, because it’s too good for that. It always seems like the place where Spencer can do exactly what he wants with songs, where he directs things rather than just taking part, where he gets the most personality into his lyrics, where the songs sound like they do in his head. Random Spirit Lover sat on my desktop for about 5 weeks too long this year, and I regret it daily.
Jagjaguwar provide the hook-up, song-wise, but Spencer does not know Jeff Mangum’s name. You can be cool without trying. A revelation.

19. Holy Fuck – LP
XL

When I reviewed this for Analogue‘s latest issue, I said at the end that it was a dark horse for album of the year. When the time came to actually compile my own personal totally overblown Album of the Year rundown, things turned out a little differently. That’s more a testament to others than a sign of LP ageing badly in the six weeks or so since I passed judgement on it, because the things that made me put it on so loud that it shook shelves and made radiators resonate while I danced sadly alone one night not too long ago are still there today (do not tell anyone about that, blogosphere, I trust you). The beats are fortified, amped up and racing the keyboards to the finishing line. Holy Fuck make a sort of organised lo-fi amphetamine dance-rock chaos that you might find growing in a cave or somewhere. Or alternatively, live and improvised in a loft in Toronto. Or alternatively, on CD or mp3, recorded for your convenience in what proved to be a valiant though unsuccessful attempt at the best album of 2007.
A well-provisioned MySpace provides Bishop Gregory, Lovely Allen and other vital album tracks, while Coke Machine Glow lands a lower rating than I would’ve, but describes it well.

18. Handsome Furs – Plague Park
Sub Pop

Plague Park has all the hallmarks of a true side-project effort. Dan Boeckner is famous from collaborating with Spencer Krug in Wolf Parade. He decided to make an album with his wife. They wrote it at home. The only singing and real playing on it is Dan. If there was ever an album in danger of being a vanity project, this was it. It’s not though. Or if it is, it still sounds great. Proof that minimalism can sound rich, with the help of a mid-90s drum machine, occasional keyboards and his guitar dosed in Canada-sized dollops of reverb, Dan lets his lyrics and particularly his vocal range spread much broader than he did with other projects. He takes wings. The lyrical conceits are idiosyncratic at this stage. Love, nothing and modernity, swimming in these strange metaphors. Like Sunset Rubdown, there’s the feeling that this is how Dan would be doing things if every idea in his head came to full fruition. Every song in the album sounds like a constituent part of a whole scheme, and that whole is as dusty and spacious as the cover art. Marginally better than Spencer’s effort this year. Not that it’s a competition.
Here is what I said about Handsome Furs in Whelans in October, and here are two of the best tracks, What We Had and Handsome Furs Hate This City.

17. Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position
Polydor

This album came out early in the year and quite possibly leaked in 2006, so it didn’t appear on many end of year lists. That’s the only possibly explanation. The very idea that all the top 50s of the Educated in the world could have ignored The Magic Position is so offensive to me, that I can’t entertain it for a second. Especially seeing as they all hyped it when it was released. The album is a tapestry of swelling violin-led tracks, bouncing pop, fragile Antony-esque piano ballads and very slightly Depeche Mode tunes. There’s even a taste of Xiu Xiu on The Stars. It’s much, much better than anything Wolf has done before, and largely what establishes it are the singles. The Magic Position and Accident & Emergency as a combination make this album special alone. The rest of the salad bowl of sounds are tied together by Wolf’s occasionally breathy semi-croon, and they create a quite captivating and undulating selection. Pity everyone forgot.
The NME article where Patrick had a bit of a sulk, and a hotlink to the video for Accident & Emergency on his website.

16. Gruff Rhys – Candylion
Rough Trade

Another salad bowl of an album is Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys’ second solo album. Before we start talking about the music, if there were awards for best album art (and seeing as this is my blog, I may well invent one) Candylion would win hands down for its completely flawless cardboard rendering of what the combination “candylion” would look like. Not all of the album is as sweet as the cover, but the title track (which comes after an intro falsely declaring the album to be for voice and guitar) definitely is. It’s a knowing sort of sweet though, more Bassetts All-Sorts than WKD Blue. It’s mostly in English, with a handful of Welsh songs and one in basic Spanish for some reason. One of Welsh ones, Gyrru Gyrru Gyrru is the highlight, and one of the catchiest songs of the year. Many hours have I walked home from places sans mp3 player with a Welshman’s voice saying “gurry gurry gurry gurry gurry gurry” over and over and over again. Superb stuff. Apart from sweetness and infectiousness, there are slightly less saccharine tunes floating around too. Cycle of Violence sounds a bit like Pinky and Skylor! is a 14 minute behemoth that sounds a small bit like the Velvet Underground. There aren’t weak tracks. Wales is still a world power in music.
MySpace tells the story of Candylion, and YouTube has Gruff and Lisa show us how to make our own, ala Blue Peter.