Musicians today have it really easy. While it's true not everyone has access to a wide variety of instruments, it is still ridiculously easy to make music if you want to. No need to book a studio and prepare songs ahead of time; thanks to computers and readily available software, bedroom auteurs don't even need to spring for cheap 4-tracks anymore. So now, more than ever, self-imposed limitations have a huge effect on how music is made and what the results end up like. Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam recently released a solo album of songs written on/for ukelele. Matt Friedberger of the Fiery Furnaces is putting out a series of solo albums using one instrument per record. And now Spencer Krug is going down a similar path. One of the most absurdly prolific artists of his generation, having recorded music with fully six different bands in less than ten years, last year he debuted Moonface, the name given to his solo project outside of his main bands, Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown.
Dubbed Dreamland EP: Marimba and Shit-Drums, it was a single 20 minute track played only on the titular instruments. A demanding and tedious EP, it tests even the patience of hardcore fans such as I. Following on the heels of the indefinite hiatus of Wolf Parade, he now releases another Moonface record, Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I'd Hoped. Recorded when he was snowed in at his home during the winter of 2010, the album title, as with the previous EP, alludes to the instrument used, a primitive sounding electronic organ, though the record also has some cheap sounding drum machines. Some reviews have described this album as videogame music/chiptune sounding, but this is talking in terms of pure sound and not the feel of it. I would say this music is more akin to Wolf Parade co-leader Dan Boeckner's side project with his wife, Handsome Furs. While that band goes for a synth-pop dramatic intensity, recalling the purely synthetic sounds of early techno singles, Organ Music has a more atmospheric and trance-like quality, as if Kraftwerk had recorded an album with David Bowie in the early 80s and sang without using robotized voices.
Those who couldn't stand Krug's aesthetic before will find this the latest damning evidence that he is an overrated, pretentious, and self indulgent artist who hipsters talk themselves into enjoying. And even some fans will still dislike this release, thinking it repetitive and monotonous. I concede that is technically true; the songs of Organ Music sound like they started off in a drone/minimalist style before Krug decided to sprinkle in melodies and lyrics. That, to me, is what makes Organ Music a far more interesting and successful release than the Dreamland EP. It helps immensely that this album is only five songs and 37 minutes long, demonstrating that even when he is making dense and “indulgent” music, Krug still has some self control left.
Organ Music sounds to me like something recorded between 10 P.M. and 3 A.M. while drunk on wine and partially stoned, thinking about exes you wish you hadn't blown it with, or friends you haven't seen for two years. These are lengthy songs which slowly build, peak, and recede. Once the drum machine has faded out, the slowly dying haze of the last part of 'Fast Peter' piles on layers of organ into a grand finale. 'Whale Song (Song Instead Of Kiss)' may start off sounding like the opening to an 8-bit Nintendo game, but Krug's addition of more organ lines and double-tracked vocals as the song progresses proves that at this point in his career, he's at his best when he's given a long canvas to paint on. Instead of brush strokes, his non-linear song structures shoot out in grand ellipticals which never fail to resolve themselves in memorable and self-referential ways.
Where the monotony and repetition of the Dreamland EP turned me off, I find Organ Music completely succeeds. Krug's skills as arranger and hook-crafter may be on vacation, but his emotive way of singing oblique narratives and his ability to write surprisingly enjoyable melodies on even the most simple of instruments transforms this record from a boring vanity project into a transcendent and thrilling piece of music. If you are one of the Krug faithful or you want some dense, challenging music that doesn't follow trends or attempt to start any, this record is for you.