“Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped”
Label: Jagjaguwar Records
Spencer Krug is cut from a different cloth than other indie-rock powerhouses. It’s not just the prism of weirdness that his multiple projects have demonstrated — it’s how he executes this weirdness with such earnestness and confidence.
From the accessible guitar-and-kit rock of the initially lauded and now defunct Wolf Parade to the rococo whimsy of his Sunset Rubdown moniker, the Canadian musician has not only donned a musical rack of hats through the last decade; he’s worn them very well.
Amid these masquerade patterns, the 34-year-old Krug released his first full-length under the namesake Moonface — one that Krug describes as the “last moniker I have left to exploit” in the album’s initial press release. While Krug may be seeking a flexible haven with the expectedly-disorienting atmosphere of “Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped,” the question remains whether or not Krug has reached a point of reinvention for the simple sake of the word itself.
The record’s name is a self-referential jab at Krug’s inability to creatively settle. The first Moonface release came last February in the form of the twenty-minute EP, “Dreamland EP: Marimbas and Shit-Drums.” The bulk of the release’s sonic description can be found right in the title. The creatively calculated Krug now seems a bit more confronted with his turning mind on “Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped.”
Across six songs — not one shorter than six minutes — Krug plays with the same contrasting percussive realms as his “Dreamland EP.” The marimba has been traded for vibrating organ chords and the kit drums for throbbing electronic blips. On tracks like “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor,” Krug douses his creative struggles in lyrical surrealism. Since this album’s aesthetic character makes Krug’s least approachable release, the opaque approach to his conflicts still resonates pretty clearly.
Krug’s nervous playfulness aside, his knack for teasing out instrumental timbre has always been the foundation of his work. For all the modernity that his hiccupping vocals and electric tweaks bring, the manual tools he deploys leave many notes and harmonies resonating like relics. When he thematically mirrors these emotive resonances, his work shines the brightest. The album single, “Fast Peter,” a stream of dizzying loops and contemporary lovelorn imagery (e.g., “they only talk on their computers”) is an unquestionable standout.
It’s not common for an artist’s most distancing work to function as his most personal endeavor. But such is the weird turning mind of Spencer Krug. The first proper Moonface album may be littered with creative haze, but that’s what keeps it engrossing.
“Sky Full of Holes”
Artist: Fountains of Wayne
Label: Yep Roc Records
Generation Y doesn’t know NYC pop rockers Fountains of Wayne for who they really are. The group will probably never be able to crawl from beneath the weight of their more commonly referred to title, “The guys who sang that ‘Stacy’s Mom’ song.”
Never mind that their 1996 self-titled debut was one of the most critically lauded pop-rock offerings of the decade. Or that bassist and principle songwriter Adam Schlesinger wrote the heft of the songs — title track included — for Tom Hanks’ ode to 60s pop, “That Thing You Do!” The latter example may be the best summation of their five-album career. “Welcome Interstate Managers,” the 2003 release that was home to their massive MILF-focused hit, was a pastiche of hook-filled structure and Americana lyricism.
On their latest release, “Sky Full of Holes,” the group continues to traverse similar planes of easily digestible radio rock. For the same reasons that “Stacy’s Mom” became infectious, there’s no shame in loving simple pop songs.
To be fair, Schlesinger and singer/guitarist Chris Collingwood were never aiming their thematic sights toward the teenage market. Their listless yuppie lyricism carries greater credence with the middle-aged or at least youthful cynics. But Schlesinger and Collingwood’s brand modern-day melancholy becomes awash with comfort through their ability to craft seamless song structure. On tracks like “Richie and Ruben,” a tale of two laughably awful entrepreneurs, the band succeeds on gentle, percussively guided structure — one that allows The Zombies’ influence to resonate clear as crystal.
The bulk of the record surrounds less gimmicky subject matter. In fact, the newfound undercurrent of West Coast pop influence keeps the talking points appropriately vague. “A Dip in the Ocean” moves across quick synaptic flashes from a 1998 beach trip. Even here, the memories have dents of imperfection with lines like, “Get a load of the light and the trees/ and the sweet decay in the maritime breeze.” It’s the brand of languid optimism that Fountains of Wayne do best.
It’s just a bit unfortunate that the group’s latest effort is somewhat stylistically stagnant. After developing a commendable penchant for honky-tonk revivalism over the last two albums, its prevalence on “Sky Full of Holes” feels a bit worn out. The steel strings seem poised for retirement by the time the second-to-last track, “Firelight Waltz,” begins. The stylistic favoritism is also just a bit too daunting since it stifles the act’s strong suit. Fountains of Wayne play the strongest when they’re combating the mundane with the encouraging. “Sky Full of Holes” wades in too much burden without the alleviating bliss.
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