Album Review: Moonface – Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped

[Jagjaguwar; 2011]

“Moonface will probably never sound like Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown. Lately, my musical ideas are quickly changing things, not steady or constant. They are completely unreliable, and so I lurch toward them impulsively. The results might end up being just as random as the ideas, but hopefully they will be worth the effort nonetheless.”

So goes the conclusion to Spencer Krug’s honest, smile-inducing and self-written press kit for his new album, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, under his Moonface moniker. Krug’s creative skills have always been on the productive side and have never been afraid to venture into experimental territory. When he released his first EP as Moonface, the underrated Dreamland: Marimba and Shit-Drums, this side seemed to be more in focus than ever before, but even though it was a twenty minutes long, teeming with melodies and rich with imagery, it was still identifiable as a work of Spencer Krug’s.

And Krug’s right with what he says above; Moonface doesn’t and isn’t likely to sound like anything by Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown. Admittedly, the additional female vocals on “Fast Peter” do recall Sunset Rubdown but musically, as organ lines zip by, it’s as detached as it from his other projects as an episode of The Wire is from an episode of Chuck. But the change is good, if not at the very least, really interesting and Krug manages to deliver an album that never feels like it’s getting old or tired sounding despite utilizing nothing more than the organ for his music (with an additional few shit-drum here and there to help along proceedings). The praise has to begin there, as Krug manages to get a commendable array of textures out of the instrument from the jagged staccato chords and 8-bit Nintendo-like melodies (“Shit-Hawk in the Snow”) to the carnival tone that turns warm Sunday church organ (“Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor”).

Krug also hit the nail on the head when he describes the album as “something between pop and lush drones.” The majority of the songs here do have the elements of a conventional pop song embedded in them – chord progressions, riffs, repetition – but their long run times spread them out and build them up until something resembling a wall of noise emerges. And I suppose this is where you could fault the album, in that all five tracks aim for similar crescendos. But each one does it in its own way: “Whale Song (Song Instead of a Kiss)” starts off a little uneasy but brings in some surprisingly effective bouncing drums to drive the song to its conclusion, “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor” systematically adds layers, making for a series of smaller highs, the most effective one being when Krug, recycling an old phrase effectively, sings in double track of an “idiot heart” as another organ line mirrors his vocal melody and begins to soar. “Fast Peter” is a little different in that it acts as the album’s literal and musical centrepiece, building up all the energy from the previous two tracks before taking three and half minutes to come down from the clouds, like taking a series of long breaths.

“Shit-Hawk in the Snow” is the only track which matches the description of being a drone track, while also probably being the harshest thing on the album. The track keeps a consistent buzz throughout its seven-and-a-half minute run time, only changing three times. But, the momentum is never jeopardized. Rather, if anything, the riff resets the track, starting it again with more energy each time. By the third time the riff comes about it’s ready for Krug and already starts reeling itself off before he’s finished singing. Much like the lyrics go, the track “will hypnotise you.”

Lyrically Krug’s also on good form after a somewhat inconsistent performance on the last two Wolf Parade albums. If anything he’s more confessional than ever and Organ Music is his most honest lyrical work to date. Opening track “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor” has Krug laying out his regrets (“You should have been a writer, you should have played guitar”) before aiming an attack at any potential haters (“I hear you hate it all just based on your principles now”). Even the song’s long title could well be a reference to a desire of Krug’s to get back to some kind of song writing roots – perhaps making music on his own, like he did on his few first few Sunset Rubdown releases. “Fast Peter” tells the story of a friend involved in a long distance love affair and with Krug’s careful use of words he manages to pretty much tell the full story in four stanzas while retaining an emotional hook (“She’s the one, the one that he thinks of when he thinks of love”). If anything though the album seems to be a love letter to times past, much like Dreamland was a well constructed ode to the seemingly random content of his dreams. He references small things, like the way he smoked cigarettes in 2003 to how Talking Heads remind him of his friends on “Loose Heart = Loose Plan,” before reeling off a series of images from the eighties where he was singing with friends in falsetto and hanging about hospital lobbies.

And this is a good side of Krug to see, considering he’s more akin to using imagery and metaphors from a whole host of sources, clouding the personal line and meaning in the song. He can still pull of a great phrase that’ll make you double take once its weight hits you fully – try “I could see you’ve made a garden/ From the flowers growing out of my remains.” But this lyric put on display a number of other sides from a fear of death to revenge. Much like the way the organ music builds and builds, Krug seems to open up more and more, making the end result most definitely worth the effort.