As I suspected, the National Audubon Society does not recognize the shit-hawk as an official bird. It is, however, a slang term often applied to scavengers like gulls and other birds of prey. Wikipedia suggests it was primarily a term used to describe the Black Kite. Huh.
I’ll come back to that.
At this point, I hope you realize that Spencer Krug’s grand narratives embody us all, encompass each and every one of us in universal storylines of love, lust, ambition, violence, and death. He has continued on this path from the very beginning and grown this skill exponentially. The metaphors are at once lofty and meta, yet employ strategically simple language, all in an effort cast the broadest net and reel in the greatest number of likeminded listeners. I am Spencer Krug. You are Spencer Krug. We are all Spencer Krug.
That Krug’s Moonface project receives a relatively smaller amount of popular attention than his other outfits does not mean the scope is smaller. The attention should only increase – even though he’s the only recording member of the band (as of right now – that will soon change, as he’s hit the road and proclaimed the message far and wide. So he hasn’t been keeping Moonface in his pocket or anything. And just because he’s got two releases under his belt as Moonface with him and only him in the driver’s seat doesn’t mean that he’s gotten shy on us all of a sudden. Far from it – Krug has never been accused of reigning in his tendencies, and Organ Music is no different.
Back up and recall that Spencer has had his hand in some of the greatest* projects the first decade of this millennium has seen, from Wolf Parade to Sunset Rubdown, from Frog Eyes to Swan Lake, and thus he has garnered a cache among at least myself that he can do relatively little wrong on record. Apologies to the Queen Mary is one of my favorite records of all time. Shut Up I Am Dreaming and Dragonslayer are amazing Sunset Rubdown records. He plays/played in Swan Lake and Frog Eyes, respectively.
*Hyperbole? Maybe. But not here at Crate-Digging.
But it’s Moonface to which he’s directing his current attention. Last year saw the release of the uncharacteristically minimal Dreamland EP: Marimba and Shit Drums, a single, 20-minute song composed entirely on – you guessed it – marimba and shit drums. The big question, when that hit the online community as a free download, was, how the heck is this going to work? I mean, the specs are ridiculous – and lyrics based on dream journal scribblings? What the hell?
Unbelievably – or maybe too believably – Krug made it work, composing the piece so tightly and with such a variety of pleasurable hooks that it didn’t matter whether or not you were listening to a marimba-and-drum record. Song, really. For twenty minutes.
And now we have the first full-length Moonface record, and again, the limitations are writ large in the title of the album itself: Organ Music – and, in a peculiar piece of apologetics before we get anywhere – Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped. This weird bit of self-loathing manifests itself in a public act of contrition, like before you even listen to the record you’ll be disappointed by it. Krug is, obviously, or else he wouldn’t have appended that. And maybe that’s why he’s relating to scavengers like shit-hawks and bottom feeders, because he’s so disgusted by himself that the only metaphors he can come up with are the likes of these. Even on the upbeat “Fast Peter,” the title character tells Krug about a girl “while we were high on drugs.” There’s no shortage of missed expectations.
I don’t buy that for a second, of course. It wouldn’t explain in the slightest the attention to detail inherent in the music itself. And while maybe – maybe – Moonface still exists as secondary to Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, et al., Spencer lovingly crafts what turn out to be sprawling, dense compositions. They’re long, all five songs lasting between six and eight minutes, and where the casual listener may pine for the instant gratification of songs like “Grounds for Divorce” or “They Took a Vote and Said No,” Organ Music’s tracks reveal themselves gradually. In fact, the ocean themes are not out of place in the slightest, as the melodies are immersive and the subtle shifts act like currents for the listener, who drifts, as if on a raft, from one place to a completely different location, and upon arrival, looks up and realizes how far from the beginning they’ve come.
I hesitate to say “fall asleep on a raft and wake up completely off course,” a note I had scrawled while listening to the album, because that’s somewhat disingenuous to the artist and carries a negative connotation, one that I’d quickly dispel. And anyway, it’s not like you can really sleep through a Spencer Krug production, can you? Even the ocean is in turmoil, as in “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor” simultaneously conjures up the peaceful pressure and seeming solitude of depth as well as the fighting and fornicating of the life forms that dwell there. The stabbing keys gradually give way to lush chords. “Whale Song (Song Instead of a Kiss)” features dynamic and tense arpeggios at its climax, and it too wallows in disappointment.
“Shit-Hawk in the Snow” swings on a cold groove that buries itself so deeply into your experience of it that it could exist on its own as a locked groove and entertain for hours. And yes, it is here that the self-loathing metaphors crest, because no matter what the narrator longs for, he knows his place: “Watching seagulls in the blizzard / Makes me see how much I miss her / Makes me wish for ignorant bliss / But I still know where my home is / Not unlike a shit-hawk in the snow.” In the creep-out closer “Loose Heart = Loose Plan,” we get “You said ‘Come on, let’s kill individual will!’ / I said ‘I will. I will. Oh I really, really will,’” as if there’s desperation to do so. Yikes.
“Fast Peter” is a genuine pop hit compared to the rest. (Albeit with a lengthy atmospheric coda.)
But it doesn’t matter. Enjoyment does not hinge on whether or not you buy the self-loathing as genuine. It does not matter whether or not you’re familiar with Krug’s discography (although take it from me, it really helps). Moonface is a unique artistic expression of a true visionary musician, and there’s a lot here to dig in to. Fortunately, the music is pretty good too.
RIYL: Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes, Destroyer, Swan Lake