Album Review: Spencer Krug – I Just Drew This Knife

[Pronounced Krug; 2023]

Spencer Krug is picking up where he left off. On last year’s Twenty Twenty Twenty Twenty One there was “Chisel Chisel Stone Stone” as the send off, and on his new album, I Just Drew This Knife, he opens with a determined aim: “I’m gonna get back into sculpture / I’m gonna start by splitting this rock in two,” he begins, resetting himself for another round. It’s a hardship, but the creative process must continue on. 

Although he’s no longer under the same kind of spotlight he was 10 to 15 years ago, Krug is still staying as busy as ever. In the past year he finished a track-by-track remake of Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man, reunited Sunset Rubdown for a tour, and even managed to write and record a new album. I Just Drew This Knife is Krug’s third album under his own name in as many years, and though he recorded it with familiar friends Eli Browning and Jordan Koop, his approach was slightly different this time: Collaborating from the ground up, Krug and Koop worked with instrumental recordings Browning had made by himself over the pandemic. The trio recast these demos into new forms, until after months of working remotely, they had enough material to take to a studio and make a proper album of.

If I Just Drew This Knife sounds a little off-kilter or unusual for a Spencer Krug record, then that’s the other musicians feeding in their ideas. The closest thing you’ll get to a “traditional” Spencer Krug song (whatever that might mean exactly) is “The Shadow”, with its resonant piano chords and philosophical lyrics; “You’re aware that in the night the shadow is still there / And you’re aware that it’s the light that makes the shadow appear”. But before long a skronking dissonant electric guitar drags the song into gloomier depths. “A true group effort, this album is as much theirs as it is mine,” Krug explains in the wryly amusing album notes, and though his voice is at the centre of all these songs, the muted coloured vines being weaved around him on the album sound aptly like there are growing towards him, and not always from him. Sometimes it sounds like he’s wrestling them off and sometimes they furl up around his body seamlessly.

This allows for tracks that bustle in new and curious ways for Krug. “Taxi After Taxi” in particular exhibits a beatnik poetry style, his plainspoken lyrics over throbbing bass and meandering electric guitar notes recalls Leonard Cohen and even a light shade of late Scott Walker. Arrangements are knotty and when familiar echoes of Krug’s trademark sounds appear (“Nostalgia Is The Rose” could be a Wolf Parade hook reformed until it folds in on itself) they diffuse and conflux in ways that keep the listener on their toes. References to sculpture seem apt here, as the songs here feel like rocky terrain as opposed to a delicate watercolour. 

Krug’s lyrics are also a little more obtuse than previous outings. He’ll still drop a turn of phrase that’ll go over your head on first listen, but appreciate fully on repeated spins (“I think you live in the air / Between the key and the door”). He traverses through familiar territory of anxiety, superstition, and the everyday small details of long-lasting love; like previous albums, I Just Drew This Knife is a snapshot of Krug evolving. He’s trying out new guises, and even if they are unwieldy at times, they are honest to how his creative process is. It’s a document of a man keeping busy, chiselling away at that monolithic stone.