Thursday, July 30, 2009

Video: Broken Social Scene: Lover's Spit

I had no idea that Broken Social Scene had so many music videos, so I had plenty to choose from. But I'm a sucker for romance and I think this video is profoundly beautiful especially combined with the song.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Album Of The Week: Broken Social Scene- You Forgot It In People

When someone writes the history of indie/underground rock for this decade, they'll surely have to include You Forgot It In People by the Broken Social Scene. Released in 2002, it quickly gained critical attention and word-of-mouth love leading to a re-issue in 2003 with different cover art. Broken Social Scene were the first "from left field" indie darlings from this decade that I recall, and they didn't really sound like anyone else out there. It helped that they were A) Canadian B) made up of a large rotating cast of players C) pretty faceless. I mean, sure, Feist is pretty big nowadays, but I probably wouldn't be able to recognize the two "leaders" of the band, Kevin Drew and Brendan Canning, if I passed them on the street.

What the band accomplished on You Forgot It In People was re-introducing a sense of "hey, let's see if this works" discovery into pop music. Barring the band's debut album, Feel Good Lost, which was more of an instrumental/ambient affair, at the heart of every Broken Social Scene release beats a heart in love with songwriting and melody, albeit often delivered in unexpected ways thanks to experimental elements, multi-layered production, and interesting instrumentation. 'Stars And Sons' has some nice guitar squall toward the end while buried beneath the rest of the sonic muck of the song is a genuinely emotive vocal. The album takes a surprising left turn with the stripped down, acoustic 'Looks Just Like The Sun', carrying this vibe over to the tropical and almost-Lounge music influenced instrumental 'Pacific Theme.' And the back third of the album magnificently gives itself over to heart-on-your-sleeve romanticisms, a three-part gut punch that begins with the indescribably majestic and goosebump inducing 'Lover's Spit.' Melancholic horns on 'I'm Still Your Fag' ably prove that not only were Broken Social Scene working with a wide palette of sounds and band members, but they knew how to use them sparingly and to great effect. Finally, the lovely violins on closing instrumental 'Pitter Patter Goes My Heart' remind you that the unexpected and experimental elements of an album don't have to come from noise and chaos.

While I may personally prefer their third, self titled album, I do acknowledge that You Forgot It In People is the band's most popular, critically and amongst fans. It is an album that I firmly believe is crucial to understanding the vibe and aesthetics of this decade's music, insofar as indie/underground rock goes. And, along with Arcade Fire's Funeral, it really put Canada on the map as a source of incredible music. Anyone wondering what the fuss about this whole "indie" thing is ought to get a copy of this album, a decent pair of headphones, and dig in.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Diablo II

Diablo II (PC)
Looking back at Blizzard's games, I don't think any was as well served by a sequel as Diablo. When I bought the Battle Chest of the series two or three years ago, I popped the original game in as a reminder of where the series had come from. The word 'archaic' doesn't begin to describe it. There are still the basic elements at work that make a Diablo game a Diablo game, but so many improvements and expanded concepts were added in Diablo II that I think it's easy to forget how much the sequel added and perfected. Raise the stakes with the expansion, Lord Of Destruction, and the difference is even more dramatic.
For starters, Diablo II has twice as many character classes as the first game. Each of the six totally new classes have very distinct "builds" that you can pursue. This would carry over to World Of Warcraft, though I think that game does it a bit better because you can pay to re-jigger your skill point distribution at any point. As with WoW, two builds in Diablo II for the same class will play differently. The Druid class is probably the best case of this, since he can become a spellcaster, a frontline tank, a pet class, or some combination of these. Anyway, the addictive loot system of the original Diablo was back (and also better), but the new layer of figuring out builds and powerful skill combinations (especially with synergies letting certain skills boost others) gave the game greater depth.

Depth is something that Diablo II isn't always noted for, but with the expansion especially the game had added so many new concepts and systems over the original that you always feel like there's something to do before you quit for the night. At the same time, there are more ways than ever to power-up your character, whether it's the customizable socketed items and matching jewels and runes, the companion 'mercenary' characters, the magic items and equipment that can boost your native skills and/or give you the skills of other classes, or the aforementioned skill synergies, you feel like if you're having a tough time it's probably your fault.
Looking ahead to Diablo III, there are some things I hope get changed or dropped. For starters, the Stamina system has got to go. The original Diablo moves at a snail's pace compared to Diablo II, but even in this game you were limited to a certain amount of running until you have to walk for a bit. Moreover, I've always hated the light radius aspect of the game. To a lot of people this is a crucial element of the series, especially in maintaining its dark and devilish atmosphere, but I would like to see the game's environments even if it's more "realistic" to have the dark/underground areas limit your view. A few other things come to mind: being able to pay to redistribute skill points, a better way of looting (I dunno about you, but after awhile it gets annoying to have to click on every stack of gold, and sometimes I accidentally pick stuff up that I didn't mean to), a more balanced approach to elemental resistances (and poison, oh god, the poison), and some more direct control over mercenaries/pets/summons.

Technically and mechanically, Diablo II is a fantastic game. Blizzard are brilliant at interfaces and controls, and I think it was with this game that their design sense really started to shine. The animations for characters, spells, and attacks are, by today's standards, a bit stiff looking, but still good considering their era. There's a certain indefinable personality to the way characters and enemies look and behave that's very Diablo. What's more, I wish all RPGs would take a cue from this game and make it so that your armor/equipment shows up on the characters. Part of the fun of the game is watching your character go from a barely clothed/armed scrub to a frightening bad ass. And as you progressively add more skills to your repertoire, Diablo II smartly uses a shortcut key system for selecting skills so that you're mostly using the mouse to control everything, hitting the number keys to guzzle potions and the F1 through F12 keys to select skills.
Graphically, there's a trade-off to Diablo II: it will run on pretty much any computer from the last nine years, but you're limited to a 800 X 600 resolution. It can take some getting used to if you're used to modern videogames and PC games, but once you're back in the swing you hardly care because the 'addictive' and 'fun' are forever but 'good looking' is ephemeral. As for sound and music, they're good but since you'll be playing the game for so long you'll probably do what I do and turn the music off entirely and listening to your own with the sound effects turned down.

The original Diablo may not have aged well, but Diablo II is as good as it was when it came out nine summers ago. In fact, I would argue that it's better than ever thanks to recent patches and re-tuning. Since Diablo III probably won't be out til next year (at the earliest), you may as well get re-addicted to the second one. By the time you emerge from your binge, shaking and thinner than you've been since high school, the sequel might be out.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Portugal.The Man- The Satanic Satanist

On their last album, Evil Urges, My Morning Jacket often made ill advised forays into falsetto driven funk and white boy R&B-isms. It came off as almost as a joke to these ears, like something they should've relegated to the outtake bin or a throwaway EP. Granted, while I like funk and R&B, I don't actively listen to either. They aren't part of the music I "follow", so to speak, so the few times they intersect the music I love, it often feels forced or bad. Strangely, then, I find Portugal. The Man (yes, it's punctuated that way, period and all) to be a successful example of an indie rock band picking up on funk/soul/R&B and doing something fun and satisfying with it.

True, the band's name is unwieldy. True, the album art for the CD edition is some kind of weird fold-out thing that is awesome but, along with the album title (which nods to the Rolling Stones's Their Satanic Majesties Request, or so I assume), it will make you expect something far more psychedelic and weird than what is on display. That said, The Satantic Satanist does bring to mind a lot of late 60s and 70s music in a general sense. The band's hooks and melodic moments show a gift for songwriting that belies a youth spent listening to classic rock and pop tunes.

It's pretty strange that members of the band come from Alaska, since this album has such a fun, summery sound to it. The commanding opening song 'People Say' leads directly into the next song 'Work All Day' on a chorus of voices and a groovy organ line before the funky beat of the latter song kicks in. 'The Sun' display's singer John Gourley's excellent falsetto-reaching vocals in full; at times he can sound like Jack White if Jack White could sing in the sense that 60s pop/rock bands could sing, on key and clear. Whether built with loops or not, there's no denying the grooves and rhythms of songs like the psychedelic tinged 'Everyone Is Golden.' Closer 'Mornings' is appropriately epic in feel but still makes time to nod back to the soldier motif of the first song, giving the album a cyclical feel.

Bonus points for keeping it short; it helps a lot that at less than 35 minutes the album never repeats an idea or overstays its welcome. After each subsequent listen I found myself wanting to hear the album more and more, to dig back into the rocking 'Do You' or the subtle bongos on the chorus of 'Lovers In Love.' There's just something about succint-but-awesome albums that make them endlessly listenable, from Revolver by the Beatles to Surfer Rosa by Pixies to In Rainbows by Radiohead.

The Satantic Satanist is a pleasant surprise of an album, a bonafide summer release that sounds great while drinking down the sun with some friends or while cruising home after you get out of work on a Friday. And while more often than not, bands you've never heard of tend to be terrible and overrated by their local fans and press, Portugal. The Man are one example of a band that I feel deserves more attention and love, if only because they prove that if your songwriting and music is good enough, you can make a R&B/soul/funk tinged album that even I can love.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Video: Wilco- Cars Can't Escape

I'm going to see Wilco after work today, so there won't be a substantial post. Instead, enjoy this video of an unreleased song from the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions, taken from the I Am Trying To Break Your Heart film. Also included is some funny studio footage.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Album Of The Week: The Fiery Furnaces- I'm Going Away

I had no idea a new Fiery Furnaces album was coming out until last week when I was browsing the upcoming releases on Metacritic. "Woah, new Fiery Furnaces!!", I thought, getting increasingly excited as I sought out a Torrent (well, how else would I be reviewing this before it came out??). I hadn't read anything about I'm Going Away before I heard it, so this was a rare case of going into a new release by a band I love with no expectations of my own. And my gut reaction was, "what they hell are they thinking?!"

The last time the Fiery Furnaces released an album that anyone would consider "straightforward" and "stripped down", it was 2003's Gallowsbird's Bark. It nearly got them lumped in with the early 00's garage rock wave, though going back to that album recently it sounds way weirder and more complicated than I remember. In any case, I'm Going Away is the Fiery Furnace at their most straightforward and stripped down. The trademark keyboards have been benched in favor of pianos and electric organs and most of the breakneck tempo/song changes have given way to songs focusing on melody and easygoing 60s/70s pop/rock.

I'm Going Away will take a few listens to make sense if only because the band are working against their strengths here. Certainly they have made a lot of richly melodic and catchy music, but it was always surrounded by experimental song structures and sounds. Most of the songs on this album initially seem repetitive because listeners are so used to this band restlessly moving forward. You keep expecting some curveball or keyboard noise interlude that never comes. The other problem is that I'm Going Away initially sounds monochromatic and samey by limiting its palette to guitar, bass, drums, piano, and vocals. Compare this to the variety of Widow City and it's like night and day.

Yet the reason I came around to this album is that it shows the Furnaces are still pushing themselves and trying new things, which is to say, discovering that they're masters of songwriting. What's more, I'm Going Away has a live sound to it, like the whole band was in the same room playing this music, lending the album an easygoing vibe that's missing from the rest of their work. At times it almost feels like an Eleanor Friedberger solo album with a 60s soul pop vibe, like on 'Ray Bouvier', with Matt Friedberger providing backing vocals, or on the "how can it be true?" chorus of 'Cut The Cake.' The album actually reminds me a bit of Wilco's Sky Blue Sky in its classic rock/pop aesthetic, particularly the guitar solo at the end of 'Lost At Sea.'

Speaking of which, as if to prove that they're still the Fiery Furnaces, the band pepper the album with glimpses of their past eccentricities. They have some delirious fun with tempo shifting on 'Drive To Dallas', which threatens to fly off the rails more than once. Matt Friedberger's solo turns on guitar are usually in his freakout style, which creates some dissonance with the pleasant vibe of the songs, but hey, it works for me. And 'Cups And Punches' is a reprise of 'Charmaine Champagne' in a slightly different style, adding brilliant "shoo be do do way" backing vocals.

I'm having a problem thinking of a concise way to summarize and heartily recommend the album. As I started off hating it but have grown to love it; as it's the band's most straightforward/classic rock-pop sounding album; as it proves that they don't need all the keyboards and unpredictable sounds and song structures to make great music; as it's the band's most live sounding album yet and proves they have a gift for simple songwriting...well, I don't know what else to say. It's a tricky release that I find myself liking more and more as I keep listening to it.

I guess that just means it's another excellent Fiery Furnaces album.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Video: TV On The Radio- Staring At The Sun

Stripped of their production and loops, TV On The Radio sound weirdly hollow and minimalist on this live performance from circa '04. By all accounts their modern live shows is all kinds of awesome. Regardless, enjoy the afro.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Album of the Week: TV On The Radio- Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes

Though we've got about five months to go, I think it's safe to say that TV On The Radio's EP, Young Liars, had the most astonishing and original music I've heard this decade from a new band. Their sound seemed so fully formed and owed no obvious debts to any bands to the point where the EP felt like it came out of nowhere. Of course, we know now that they had a semi-official album under their belts, OK Calculator, but that is an insular, lo-fi, skeletal work. Young Liars, though, had enough ideas and excellent music, a variety of sounds and yet a united flow, that it satisfied like an album does. By contrast, the band's 'true' debut full length, Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes, never had the same cache with me.

It took Return To Cookie Mountain to bring me back in, and last year's even better Dear Science proved that TV On The Radio were in this for the long haul. Yet Desperate Youth remained, in my mind anyway, a slight misstep. But why did I feel this way?? It had been enough time since I last heard it that I couldn't remember why other than a lingering sense that it was too long and not very consistent. Well, inspired by conversations at work about the band, I've dug back into the album, re-discovering it in the process.

The two words that come to mind when listening to this album again are thick and dense. David Sitek's production and electronic work were never again as oppressive and heavy as they are on Desperate Youth, which is an odd thing to find myself saying because I associate these qualities more with Return To Cookie Mountain. Regardless, there are many huge drum loops and electronic skronks and swirls running through this album like the red lightning on the cover. Meanwhile, Kyp Malone and Tunde Adebimpe first began their brilliant vocal work together here (not counting the short New Health Rock EP), most notably on 'Ambulance', which is the next logical step past their doo wop cover of 'Mr. Grieves' from Young Liars. The potential problem for listeners is that, despite being only 9 tracks and 47 minutes long, Desperate Youth feels much longer. TV On The Radio's gift for marrying hook filled songwriting with their fascinating, unique sound hadn't quite fully bloomed here, so too often songs feel as if they go on for two or three minutes past their natural endings.

Oddly, then, I find myself loving this album now. It's my least favorite release by them, but Desperate Youth is an intriguing album stuffed with excellent sounds and ideas. Young Liars was a great introduction, but this was the first time we saw the band's full breadth on display, the mixture of indie rock, electronic music, hip hop, and doo wop/soul style vocals proving very fruitful and endlessly enjoyable. The album opens with similar force to the debut EP, some horns spurting a few notes before a jackhammer drum loop starts and we're off. From there Desperate Youth visits shoegazer style guitars on 'Dreams', psychedelic 60s style organs on 'Don't Love You', and offers the brilliant line "So cover your balls/cuz we swing kung fu" on 'King Eternal.' There's a real sense of enthusiasm and discovery on this album; often, there's nothing like a band taking the studio for a spin for their first full length. If TV On The Radio didn't produce their greatest work in the process, they still produced great work.

Ultimately, I will cop to the fact that this album isn't as good as their next two albums. This is mostly as a result of the heavy production/atmosphere and lack of flow due to its often slow-to-medium tempos, but no song on here strikes me as anything less than good. Assuming you love TV On The Radio, this album will be a feast of music. For everyone else, I think it's simply too dense and ponderous of a place to start.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Boards Of Canada- The Campfire Headphase

With this decade drawing to a close in a few months, I find myself returning to albums that never quite clicked with me, or ones that I perhaps never gave a fair shake to. Campfire Headphase is a bit of both. As Boards of Canada only release an album every few years, anticipation is always high for their next statement (exceptions being the scattered EPs, like Trans Canada Highway). Leading up to Campfire Headphase, there was talk of how now the band were using guitars more heavily than ever, causing me to expect something different than what the real result was.

It's possible the duo had been using guitars all along, but they were so heavily processed and sculpted that they were unrecognizable. Regardless, Boards of Canada keep their patented ambient techno/retro-sounding-but-modern electronic music on this album but add acoustic guitars and placid electric guitars. If you're like me, you were expecting something more akin to Loveless-style shoegazer guitar sounds, but Headphase is far more mellow and quiet. In fact, that's my biggest problem with the album: it's too mellow. Yes, past Boards of Canada releases often bordered on ambient music, but there were also invigorating melodies and experimental flourishes to keep one's attention. Even when I listen to Headphase album now with more patience and forgiveness, it still seems the sort of thing you put on to fall asleep to rather than actively listen to.

My other issue with the album is that it simply seems uninspired. Even the best songs here, such as 'Dayvan Cowboy' (which makes the best use of guitars on the album) and 'Sherbert Head' (which has a wonderfully scratchy sound, like something off a David Lynch soundtrack), can't make up for the fact that most of the album is samey, repetitive, and kind of boring. I would even go so far as to say that it comes off as oddly generic. For a group with such a distinctive sound, too much of Headphase sounds like leftovers from Geogaddi and Music Has The Right To Children, or even a band trying to sound like Boards of Canada. As those two albums are excellent, this does mean that Headphase is not out and out bad. Far be it for me to complain about "more of a good thing", but this assumes a "good thing" is still good. I think the quality slipped a bit on Headphase.

Anyway, I guess it's just that you would expect more new-ness and discovery out of Boards of Canada after they talked about focusing more on guitars, let alone taking three years to make the album. I will admit that I like Campfire Headphase more than I used to, but my lasting impression is unchanged: it sounds like more of the same, but a little different, and not as good.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Tortoise- Beacons Of Ancestorship

Barring a generally excellent boxset and a not terrible/not great covers album with Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, it's been half a decade since we heard anything new from Tortoise. I can't say I was anticipating Beacons Of Ancestorship because their last one, It's All Around You, left me so disappointed. In my review of that album I said the following: "There's no sense of danger, experimentation, or chance anywhere on this album. Too often it clings to elements of the past, mirrored in personality-less ways." Well, take all of those points, reverse them, and you've got their new album, a shockingly good re-invigoration for a band who seemed to have nowhere to go but in circles.

The first thing that struck me about this album is that it doesn't sound like Tortoise. Gone are the distinctive marimbas/vibraphones and the patented Tortoise-y guitar sound. In its place are the electronic and experimental elements that made 1999's Standards my favorite Tortoise album. With a couple listens Beacons Of Ancestorship will seem more familiar and obviously a product of Tortoise, but there's a sense of fun and discovery all over the album, an energy and feel all of its own even when it hints back to other Tortoise albums. 'Gigantes' could fit on TNT with its acoustic guitar loops, tribal-esque percussion, and sense of patient floating. 'The Fall Of Seven Diamonds Plus One' is destined to play over the end credits of a film set in the West just as Millions Now Living Will Never Die's 'Along The Banks Of Rivers' had a similar filmic aesthetic. And the mysterious 'Monument Six One Thousand' could be a Standards outtake, a dirty electro drum beat bumping against a brilliantly atonal, repetitive guitar chord.

But even though Beacons Of Ancestorship may remind you of past Tortoise gems, it's never in the boring, recycled sounding manner that It's All Around You suffered under. In fact, I would say that this is one of Tortoise's more challenging albums even though it has riff heavy material like the impossible to spell or pronounce 'Yinxianghechengqi.' Album closer 'Charteroak Foundation' in particular will be a sticking point for most, with a guitar line that never seems to play in the same time signature as the rest of the band, a fascinating, melancholic arpeggio of a thing. Beyond this, though, what keeps the album from reaching the lofty heights of Standards is a lack of flow. The album never stands still and never spends too much time in dreamy atmospheres, yet something about the pacing and sequencing of the album lends it a disjointed, rocky air.

None of the songs are bad, none are out of place on the album, but there's an indefinable loss of whole-ness and unity on Beacons Of Ancestorship. A sense that the album runs out of steam after 'The Fall Of Seven Diamonds Plus One' persists in my mind, for what that's worth. This foible aside, Beacons Of Ancestorship stands amongst the strongest releases Tortoise have put out in addition to single-handedly making me re-interested in the band.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wilco- Wilco (The Album)

Just as diversity can be a good or bad thing, a band content to sound like itself can be a good or bad thing, too. I think this is the reason the Beatles's self titled album (commonly referred to as The White Album) is my favorite of their's. It's all over the map, stylistically and mood-wise, and in the end it didn't represent a leap or further development for the band so much as a consolidation of their strengths and a longform demonstration of their gift for inventive, art tinged pop. By contrast, Wilco's self titled album is arguably the weakest thing they've done since their debut, A.M., because Wilco (The Album) is a mess of contrasting styles that recall music from their various albums but come off like weaker versions.

I actually love Sky Blue Sky, which has a laid back, classic rocky feel to it. Even in that 'simple' setting I felt that Jeff Tweedy and company were exploring new things and pushing themselves. Also, the songwriting remained strong, a crucial element in the band's appeal. 'Sunken Treasure' and 'I Am Trying To Break Your Heart' are songs that hook fan for life; even the peppy 'Wilco (The Song)', the best thing here, isn't that good.

Most of Wilco (The Album) feels undercooked and effortless. By which I mean, effortless in a bad way. It adds nothing to their sound and only a handful of songs rise above "this reminds me of X off of Y", where X represents one of your favorite songs from album Y. 'Bull Black Nova' reminds me of 'Spiders (Kidsmoke)' off of A Ghost Is Born, but not as good. 'Country Disappeared' reminds me of, well, a lot of songs off of Sky Blue Sky but isn't as good. 'You Never Know' reminds me of 'Outta Mind (Outta Sight)' off of Being There but is weaker for it. I would never complain about Wilco recording stuff that sounded like songs they've done before but if the songwriting isn't as good it doesn't matter what they're trying to sound like. The Sea & Cake have sounded like themselves for most of their career but every album they put out is of a consistent quality.

So I find myself in the strange position with this album of recommending it to newcomers but telling established fans to skip it. It's as good an introduction to the band as you can get, containing most of the various styles and guises Wilco have worn. But once you've heard the rest of their discography, it sounds like a weak, insular release. Considering how many bands are pushing themselves and releasing their best music yet (check out the releases from Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, and Sunset Rubdown from this year), and how Wilco has the amazingly talented and experimental minded Nels Cline and Glenn Kotche, it's almost a shame that Tweedy was content to coast. Wilco (The Album) is not actually bad, but it is underwhelming, unsurprising, and ultimately unsatisfying.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Album of the Week: Sunset Rubdown- Dragonslayer

One could make the case that the first decade of the 21st century, at least as far as the music world is concerned, saw the emergence of Canada as a major force. Between bands like The Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, The New Pornographers, and Wolf Parade, Canada has inarguably been one of the prime movers in the indie rock arena. Interestingly, a lot of these bands branch into or out of other side projects/bands that are just as good if not better than the "main" bands, depending on the listener's sensibilities. One of the minds behind Wolf Parade, Spencer Krug, is involved in 3 other bands: Swan Lake, Frog Eyes, and Sunset Rubdown. This last band has always existed in the shadow of the other bands, in their early years being compared heavily to Frog Eyes and lately to Wolf Parade.

Around the time of 2007's Random Spirit Lover, I began to take Sunset Rubdown seriously as not a side project for Spencer Krug but another outlet for his prodigious and prolific talents. And while I thought his contributions to this year's Swan Lake album were not up to his usual level of quality, I now wonder if he saved all of his best material for Dragonslayer, the new Sunset Rubdown album, because it is, I daresay, the best thing he's ever done in any of his bands. I have been so taken with this album that I bought everything I could get my hands on by the band, which is something I never do. After hearing this album I am an official convert to the Church Of Rubdownology.

How exactly did this band surpass the mighty Wolf Parade, who I always thought of as Krug's focus?? Well, it's a combination of taking the lessons learned on Random Spirit Lover and Spencer Krug's gift for songwriting. On the aforementioned release, Sunset Rubdown crafted a dense-but-rewarding 'album for people who love albums', full of songs that blended into each other, songs in non-standard forms that had no obvious structures. When choruses or melodies appeared, they were often in fresh ways or unexpected moments. Songs would have two or three different hooks in fairly different sections such that you had to listen to the album as a whole to milk all the good stuff out. This same thing takes place on Dragonslayer but to an even more successful degree. It is more melodic and addictive, too, and brings to the fore something that was always a part of Krug's output that I never noticed: his self referential, self remaking aesthetic.

In listening through all of Sunset Rubdown's material, you'll find songs, melodic ideas, lyrics, and characters that appear a few times. It's something he possibly learned from the similarly self referential Dan Bejar (who is also 1/3 of Swan Lake with Krug) but done to an even greater degree, such as the three different versions of 'Snakes Got A Leg' and the two of 'Stadiums And Shrines.' But the ties between Krug's more recent work with Wolf Parade and Swan Lake is not like how Sunset Rubdown's Shut Up I Am Dreaming fleshed out Snake's Got A Leg. Rather, it's more like echoes and hints to Random Spirit Lover, enhancing and intertwining both albums in the process. There is also a re-imagining (and I would say an improvement upon) of 'Paper Lace', which was on this year's Swan Lake album. But I digress. The important thing here is the music and not all of these interesting but inessential ideas that float around it.

is bookended by its strongest songs: 'Silver Moons' is a new Krug classic, with a lyrical delivery that slips around the beat brilliantly while 'Dragon's Lair' reminds one of the similarly epic album closing 'Kissing The Beehive' from Wolf Parade's At Mount Zoomer though seems half as long and does twice as much. In between are songs that never get old due to their linearity and complexity; as with Random Spirit Lover, in order to get to the hooks and "choruses" you have to listen to the entire album. Dragonslayer sticks more to the catchy and melodic side of things, so the rewards come faster. 'You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)' opens with rhythmic guitar scratching and a tribal drum groove that is waylaid by videogamey keyboards; the magnificent 'Black Swan' has a minimalist percussion section with Krug's vocals that bursts into a full on band section before collapsing back into eerie atmospherics and percussion and back again. Unlike Random Spirit Lover, which took a few listens and some patience to become hooked on, Dragonslayer is immediately great but only gets better and better with every listen. And as ever, Krug's majestic, poignant lyrics burst with images and poetry, from "confetti floats away like dead leaves in the wagon's wake" ('Silver Moons'), "you are a fast explosion and I'm the embers" ('Nightingale December Song'), to the twisting "my heart is a king/where the king is a heart/my heart is king/the kind of hearts" ('Black Swan'). Everywhere Krug and Co. continue their art-pop experiments with a spiky and bombastic mix of keyboards, guitars, percussion, and vocals.

Awhile back I wrote a somewhat useless and embarrassingly overblown review of Wolf Parade's At Mount Zoomer. Well, I feel even more strongly about Dragonslayer. It has made Sunset Rubdown my new "favorite band ever!!" and handily put them into the running for album of the year alongside Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest and Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavillion. Dragonslayer is rare: an album that is immediately good but gets better with more listens; an album that has the proper ratio of art/experimentation to pop/catchiness; a singular work, standing on its own, that nevertheless recalls and echoes other works from the band's discography (and Spencer Krug's in general). Highly recommended.