The first record where Spencer Krug really let his imagination run wild was called, fittingly, Shut Up, I Am Dreaming. Since then, the grand theme of his catalog has been the tension between the world in his head– which is peopled by dragons, courtesans, and kings– and the persistent, alarm-clock nag of the world around him. In his work with prog-pop juggernauts Wolf Parade and his more fanciful onetime solo project Sunset Rubdown, Krug has fashioned himself a kind of indie rock Don Quixote: a raving, good-natured lunatic more comfortable in the realm of metaphor and myth than physical world. And for the same reason that Don Quixote would have been a shitty boyfriend, a Krug song very often ends in heartbreak. In an early Wolf Parade track,… — Pitchfork 7.1/10
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…his companion complains about the din of city buses, and he tells her to “pretend [they're] whales, keeping their voices down.” She will do no such thing. Yelps our hero, “Such were the grounds for divorce.”
The title doesn’t lie: Heartbreak is once again the main preoccupation on Krug’s latest record as Moonface, but With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery continues the recent forays he’s made into more literal, brick-and-mortar storytelling. “Fast Peter”, the strongest track on Moonface’s largely lackluster 2011 release, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, told a story about a friend’s long-distance romance in brutally clear language. (The opening couplet: “So Peter loves a girl/ The way that only Peter does/ He told me all about it on the balcony when we were high on drugs.”) “I would like to be able to do more of that sort of writing,” Krug said about the Spartan approach of “Fast Peter” in a recent interview. And most of the time, Heartbreaking Bravery makes good on that promise: There’s a purposeful simplicity to its narrative approach and a concreteness to its imagery– even when our narrator sounds less than engaged. “The bed looked like a butcher’s block/ And you liked it better when I was on top,” he drones on “Yesterday’s Fire”, his indifference backlit by a swirling, sky-on-fire soundscape, “And I thought about nothing at all.”
The Siinai of the title is a Finnish band that sounds like Tangerine Dream meets Explosions in the Sky atop a mountain that is particularly prone to lightning strikes. As their name implies, these guys rarely hit a note that’s not epic (their most recent album was a grandiose, kraut-indebted affair called Olympic Games), and their chugging, apocalyptic compositions mostly provide a nice undercurrent to Krug’s brooding wordplay on hypnotic slow-burners like “Heartbreaking Bravery” and “Quickfire, I Tried”. Krug’s arrangements with Sunset Rubdown in particular married the arty ambitions of prog rock with the crayon-bright, glockenspiel-dappled aesthetic of mid-2000s indie rock, but Siinai are more about swirly, molten swaths of gray. It’s a decidedly more mature sound for Krug, which echoes the record’s thematic concerns with aging. “I’m too old for you, anyway,” he sings to the love interest on “Yesterday’s Fire”. A few songs later he seems to have learned his lesson: “She was only 23, or she was only 24/ I headed for the door.”
Krug’s retreat from flowery metaphor is occasionally too extreme: The chorus of “Shitty City” actually goes, “And it’s a shitty city now/ It’s a shitty/ City/ Now.” That track in particular finds the Moonface and Siinai symbiosis to be a little disjointed: The instrumentation is fiery and volatile, but Krug’s efforts there feel perfunctory and a little uninspired. Thankfully, those tracks are few and far between, and overall this collaboration with Siinai proves to be one of the more compelling Moonface records to date.
Though Heartbreaking Bravery is an improvement on Organ Music, it’s a little misleading to speak of Moonface in linear, progress-oriented terms. The project is amorphous on purpose, a sort of open-ended mantle for whoever Krug feels like collaborating with in the future. “I want to make it impossible to get stuck in a rut,” he’s said, “wherein any one sound or image is expected by anyone from Moonface.” Still, given how inside his own head Krug can seem, his inclination towards collaboration– and letting other people into his dreamworld– seems like a progression in and of itself. “I’m not the phoenix yet,” he howls in clipped syllables on the album’s titular track. Maybe so, but given the guy’s prolific output, it’s only a matter of time before he burns this particular sound to ash and revives Moonface as something completely new.