Album Review: Moonface – Julia With Blue Jeans On

[Jagjaguwar; 2013]

Strewn across Spencer Krug’s discography is the mention of long distance relationships. On “Shut Up I Am Dreaming Of Places Where Lovers Have Wings” from his 2006 Sunset Rubdown album, he details a romance with someone who is “on the distant shore” who Krug wants to send “drawings of men with faithful hands [that] will make such good boyfriends” to. Skip forward half a decade (and through many other references) to “Fast Peter” from 2011’s Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, and Krug once again paints a picture of a romance held across a vast distance where the two people involved “only talk on their computers.” All that might well have come to a close on Krug’s third Moonface album, Julia With Blue Jeans On. “Let me take you up these stairs/ Let me take you to my life…[Let’s] set fire to these computers/ We had to use until today,” Krug sings on the wistfully reminiscent “November 2011.” So poignant it is that Krug put a date stamp on it.

Romance has long been a fond theme of Krug’s, and 2011’s slow-burning Heartbreaking Bravery put this in full focus. When recording the album with Finnish band Siinai, Krug found his pen being controlled by his heart in way that was never so up front. In a similar but more devoted and intense manner,Julia With Blue Jeans On is a sobering, honest, and often enlightening record that strings together Krug’s last romance. It creates a picture of the prolific songwriter that seems like it’s been years in the making; all the manic strands of mythology, with noodling guitar lines and bombastic furore all whittle down to the sound of one man singing alone at his piano.

“This album is more optimistic than anything I’ve put out so far as Moonface,” Krug recently related in an interview, and for the most part it can be easy to see why. Although the set up appears to be brazen with sadness, regret, and a deep well of sorrow on the first few listens, spending time with Julia reveals it to be a record that trickles out hopeful beauty across the walls. On the title track he laments one of his most beautiful sentiments that reaches to the heavens and then straight back down to an exact location as a romantic gesture is made from one person to another: “I’d say the only word worth singing is a name/ I’d say the only name worth singing is not ‘God’/ It’s you/ Julia.” Every moment related feels hugely significant, from meeting his love and symbolically setting fire to his music on “November 2011,” to an exchange about birth and death places, where a deeper connection suddenly blossoms (“Barbarian”).

Of course, the sadness is still there after many, many listens, but Krug becomes more and more real with each spin. “I am a barbarian…sometimes,” he sings on “Barbarian,” almost exhaling the last word under his breath. On the closing track “Your Chariot Awaits” he spells out the failing of the relationship (“We got way too close way too quickly”) but what speaks louder (beside the galloping piano melodies) is the line “It’s getting in my dreams.” Anyone’s who ever been in a relationship will know the power the subconscious has in picking up details about someone, only to make us notice them when they’re gone. Still, a sort of optimism shines through, even if he is playing a familiar romantic role: “But I don’t care what they say/ My dreams might say about me/ I need, I need something beautiful to carry/ And you’re all I care about, babe.”

With nothing more than Krug and his piano in your ears, it might appear on the surface (or first assumption) that Julia is a record that thrives on lyrical analysis. And while there’s plenty to dissect here (animal imagery, repeated mentions of God (and the idea of “God”) and the state of being, etc), Krug’s piano arrangements are just as rewarding to pay to attention to. On Sunset Rubdown or Wolf Parade records, his prowess on the keys could often be lost, and while previous Moonface records like Organ Music or the Dreamland EP shows he has a very fine knack for interweaving melodies on top and inbetween each other, Julia reveals the space in between. When the arpeggios start fluttering by, like on the appropriately lethargically paced “Dreamy Summer” or album highlight “Love The House You’re In,” it can feel a little like he’s playing directly from his influences (Rachel Grimes’ beautiful Book of Leaves was a significant inspiration), if not resorting to something a little showy to fill space. Still, there’s variety in the tempos and moods, from the stark pounding chords of “Everyone Is Noah, Everyone Is the Ark,” to the expectant and hopeful key of “November 2011,” which sounds like it’s destined to soundtrack some old 8mm home video footage (much like in the video for “Barbarian”).

There’s a sort of perfection here that stems from imperfection. Unlike previous releases, there are no overdubs here of any kind here, and never does the music ask for any. The songs on Julia exists as themselves, every so often adorned with a moment of sonic detail, but otherwise content in their form, construction, and performance. Occasionally Krug’s voice gets bathed in a little reverb, but he knows when to use it at the right time. Similarly he’s careful not to overuse his sustain pedal, but when he does, it can give the music an almost overbearing and full effect, making it seem like you’re listening to something that should have more instruments or players in the credits.

The album does hit a moment of two of exhaustion: “Julia With Blue Jeans On” and “Love The House You’re In” are the emotional crux and centrepiece, and afterwards, “First Violin” and “Black Is Back In Style” come off reeling in their predecessors light. On “First Violin” Krug even seems to be telling himself to stop and breathe in the lyrics, like it’s all getting ahead of him. It’s also on this final run that Krug resorts to more tangled metaphors and references. Considering the subject matter of the album, it’s not too long before the meaning reveals itself, but come “Your Chariot Awaits,” he wanders off into a few linguistic and referential side streets (mentions of blackbirds, trees with bells) that are hard to follow.

But this is Spencer Krug, and his words have always been loaded in some way or another, whether it be with references that are obvious or not. If new ones crop up here, then chances are, much like the long distance relationship story appears to, they’ll resolve somewhere in the future. Such is Krug’s way with words: deliberately or not, he’s weaving a huge tapestry that makes the author clearer to us. Julia With Blue Jeans On is another section in it and is a damned beautiful, it not great one at that.