Album Review: Moonface – With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery

[Jagjaguwar; 2012]

When Spencer Krug said that his Moonface projects would probably never sound like Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown, I imagine the majority of Krug’s fans hoped that he would one day eat those words. Enthusiasts of the Canadian mastermind are always likely to welcome his forays into experimental sounds and ideas, such as his Dreamland EP, where he explored the content of his dreams over a certain time period, all to music created by marimba (and shit-drums), or on his album from last year, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, where he served up five slices of organ-fuelled cheesecake. But there will always be a pining for a return to form, for Krug to either keep at it with Dan Boeckner and eventually churn out another Apologies To The Queen Mary, or hook up with his Sunset Rubdown crew and just create another Sunset Rubdown album.

Those hungry fans, and any other Wolf Parade fan who lost interest in Krug’s music once he started using the Moonface moniker, are likely welcome his latest album With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery with more open arms than ever. While it’s no carbon copy of sounds past, it does recall similar qualities to Wolf Parade: an insomniac buzzing throughout the majority of tracks, a tightness in the music that makes each moment sound deliberate and well earned, and, of course, the occasional flamboyance of Krug when he has a keyboard in front of him.

And that’s one of Krug’s appealing traits, in that his personality and style always shine through, no matter what setting he puts himself in. On “I’m Not The Phoenix Yet” a swanky keyboard riff kicks in after every chorus, and it has Krug’s name all over it, as do the glimmering ascending and descending licks on “Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips,” where you can actually hear him playing along with the band.

Krug teamed up with Finnish band Siinai for this album, hence the “with Siinai” part of the album’s title. This is important, but it can be hard to tell who is running the show exactly. At times it sounds like Krug is merely melding his lyrics into his surrounding as Siinai play their “progressive kraut rock,” which seems apt considering that seemed to be the plan in the first place. And this is good since the two go together well, while also giving Krug the opportunity to have his voice heard in a new environment. At first these tracks might not stick or make much of an impression, but spending some time with Heartbreaking Bravery allows the tracks to creep up on you, revealing a density hidden beneath the surface of most songs. On “Yesterday’s Fire” Krug’s muffled and almost distorted voice emerges from the thick guitars, like a life-form emerging from a searing blaze, while “Faraway Lightning” and “Quickfire, I Tried,” each with a separate kind of woozy and hazy swagger, build subtly, guiding you into long-winded crescendos you don’t even register at first. It’s impressive how much is done with so little, (the way an extra beat in the drum pattern of “Quickfire, I Tried” ups the pace immediately), or just with what seems like nothing at all (“Faraway Lightning” sounds virtually the same at each end, but you feel like you’ve been through something much more intense and exciting when you actually listen all the way through).

One of the reasons Krug might sound so comfortable here is that Siinai have created songs that have a theatrical kick to them, which echoes the dramatics of Sunset Rubdown. The opening track “Heartbreaking Bravery” and closing number “Lay Your Cheek On Down” are backboned by thunderous drumming and carried forward with lush flourishes of guitars to go with lyrical caveats. “Headed For The Door” also follows suit to this description, and even throws in spoken word segments at the end where Krug reads a letter to (who I presume) is a love interest of the past. And, of course, considering the lyrical matter is exactly what it says on the tin, the theatrical ostentatiousness fits in perfectly, both when Krug keeps things pretty clear-cut (“You liked it better when I was on top”) and when he’s throwing in self-referential symbolism (“When you see names of angels on the back of your eyelids”).

It’s not all top-drawer Spencer Krug driven or affiliated material: “10,000 Scorpions” sounds more like a bunch of flickering fluorescent tubes than hoard of stinging beasts, and doesn’t do much on its own, but is fine as a transitional instrumental number; “Shitty City” would probably fare better if the drums kicked in again, but instead just turns into a track of passing interest, much like “Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips,” which makes plenty of noise, but doesn’t have the same lasting effect as the better, longer tracks here (despite its promising Stevie Nicks reference). Nonetheless, this is still a very, very solid and good album (and it works best as an album), and Krug has created his most accessible venture with his Moonface name. Personally I prefer Organ Music, but that’s just because it captures a certain niche I have an interest in, but for the many Heartbreaking Bravery will help rekindle an interest in Krug once more. He’s perfectly capable of creating great music, and is definitely a musical force with justified force behind him. Thankfully he won’t be breaking any hearts with this album.