Spencer Krug Spins a Fantastic Farewell to Moonface | Under the Radar - Music Magazine

Spencer Krug Spins a Fantastic Farewell to Moonface

"You Make Angels...and They Make Monsters"

Jan 03, 2019 Web Exclusive
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The reasons for art needing the outlier are self-evident but one is worth mentioning when considering Spencer Krug's solo work. There is great potential in eccentricity. For over a decade of searching from within, and far outwith, under the guises of Sunset Rubdown and Moonface, Krug's personal departures have given definition to contours of the outer banks of his medium. With his latest and last Moonface record the best example, he has willingly played the volunteer, the bearer of torch setting out into the unlit unknown to report back to the rest.

There's this parallel corridor to the broad bands of casual listening that you can slip into and be greeted by Krug with a tip of the cap and a furtive raise of the eyebrow. All that's required to enter is a willingness to let go. Not long after you have, you're clinging to his coattails as you follow. There have always been glimpses of the restless explorer in Krug as songwriter and keyboard player for Wolf Parade, but the depths of his imagination have been illuminated most under pretense. Moonface was never just one face, along the way manifesting as a fantastical circus ringleader, a midnight phantom crooner, a Viking cave rocker.

"Maybe the alter ego allows some sort of emotional stepping stone for me to be more candid with my human feelings because there's an abstract detachment for me and I can assume that detachment exists for [the listener]," Krug speculates while drinking coffee back home on Vancouver Island, just having finished the massive Cry Cry Cry tour with Wolf Parade. "I think I've always liked a moniker to work under because it creates this kind of facade to hide behind, a bit of a mask. So that when the music gets really kooky or weird and I have to perform it on stage, there's a melodrama I can hide behind, so it's less vulnerable. What I'm [now] trying to do is abandon that fear of vulnerability and embrace the fact that I'm kind of a melodramatic person anyway. Like, this is the music I make."

Toward these means, Krug is bidding farewell to Moonface, though not the spirit behind it, with the 16 track whale of an album he just released, This One's For The Dancer & This One's For The Dancer's Bouquet. It's a final statement with a ton of gravity, splitting dimensions between a sort of jazz-rock opera of synth delay on one side, where Krug is buoyed by the instrumental prowess of drummer Ches Smith and saxophonist Mantana Roberts. On the other, hovers a conceptual sojourn where Krug sings through a vocoder, this time from the perspective of the mythological Minotaur, along to the marimba pitched rhythm for which he shares great affinity with Montréal friend and collaborator Michael Bigelow. "Kind of like how you meet a friend who also likes archery or something," Krug jokes. As Krug eerily calls out his murderer Theseus, "What did I ever do to you? You're just a hit man," the fluid trading of fluttering pitched percussion between Bigelow is the stuff of sublime coordination. And if the conceptual realm of Greek myth seems random, well then you're not familiar with Krug. "I think I got really into it because it's like western civilization's first soap opera," explains Krug. "Long twisted stories with repeating characters weaving in and out of each other's lives in nefarious ways and lying and sleeping with and killing each other. It's basically good TV."

It's easy to think of Spencer Krug as someone who was let loose to roam creatively in early life, as though spotted as the wildflower in a field of daisies. Maybe this is a theoretical leap, but the inscrutability that kind of freedom breeds looms in his manner as well, making him more of an interesting subject to probe than most. There is a subtle mischievous mocking that awaits right on the other side of a poorly phrased question, as when I ask about the danceability of the Minotaur/marimba songs on his final wild Moonface opus, and he replies, "Those songs were made with strictly percussive instruments and percussion is rhythm, so if you're going to make songs with rhythm instruments that aren't dancey, then maybe you shouldn't be working with them."

You've got to be on your toes when engaging with Krug and that goes for the reception of his music as well. While the marimba and steel drum songs are perfect for this purpose, inestimably groovy and fun in contrast to the bleak predicament of the beast they surround, the album's other half gleams with the unhinged, beautiful spiraling chaos of synth delay, that is at once controlled by the professional aplomb of its constructors. For all of Krug's courage and vision, he needed others on this adventure that don't look back. Having always sought and found fascinating collaborators, he struck rare jewels this time, roping in the talents of two of the best instrumentalists he knew in Smith and Roberts.

"They're both one of a kind players...I was like 'shoot for the stars' first," beams Krug, recalling his hopeful send out of demos to both. Krug had met Smith on a past Sunset Rubdown tour with Xiu Xiu and immediately thought of him to supply the rhythmic force required to meet the wild stallion heart of his instrumentation. "After Julia with Blue Jeans On and the stuff I was doing with Siinai, I really got into electric piano with delay for a while and I wanted to work with a really good, jazz pro drummer. Delay makes things really militant and repetitive...you can either accentuate that or fight against it and make something more textured and I wanted to do that. So, I was like, 'Okay, who's the best drummer I know?' It was a long shot but I wrote to him and he was like, 'Send me the music, let's do it.'"

As for Roberts, Krug was friendly with the sax behemoth from living in Montréal, going to her shows and listening to her at home. Her output on This One's For The Dancer... roars for itself, and it blew Krug away during a whirlwind recording of the free spirit that catapults this record above its highest peaks. "Almost all of it is first take," marvels Krug. "I think she played over a fuckin' dozen tracks in one day and did two takes for each one. She was like, 'I don't care what you do with it, take whichever take you want.' Sometimes you'll hear two saxophones, and that's when I decided to play both at once because it's a cool effect, but almost across the board, the first take is the one that had the magic. That's the sign of a really good musician, somebody who's really in tune with their own improv skills and has the confidence to weigh in like that. It was amazing."

Though you know Krug has carefully considered the output and arrangement in the curation of his final Moonface offering, you get a very strong sense that the exhilarating bolts of inspiration let fly in the sessions of its content were championed and allowed to remain intact from conception. It's the album's unexpected mixture of sources and themes that make this more an enlivened interaction than a passive listen. That means that Krug can walk away from his Moonface playing days with a ring and a trophy. "This [record] was like a problem child or a shitty teenager that turned itself around and became a successful adult or something," laughs Krug. "It's a result of innumerable revisions and rethinking of direction. And it was cool because there was no rush. I took my time because I could. There's no rush for any Moonface record. That's kind of the cool thing about my solo work.... With no one breathing down your neck you can just wait until the right idea happens."

When looking back on Moonface, Krug sees his albums as efforts he was "not embarrassed by."  I suppose this would be the outlook of the artistic risk taker, a sort of psychological hedging of bets with the knowledge of the length and width of the limbs he's gone out on. But with his final Moonface spin, Krug can tilt that gaze from shameful concern to prideful embrace of a truly incomparable expression. The outlier has once more demonstrated that while reference and derivation are inevitable and often augmenting as monuments in contemporary songwriting and performance, we must protect those with the will towards ingenuity. This message resonates strongest in Krug's spellcasting compositions and should do enough to lure others, to wherever that might be.

"I'm still going to sing the same kind of lyrics and make the same kind of music," assures Krug of his solo future, returning to the phone after letting his dog in. "All I'm doing is trying to lift the veil a bit from my own face and see what happens. I'm kind of scared again and being scared makes good art."

www.moonface.ca

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