Dragonslayer – Sunset Rubdown

by Jack Diablo

Release Date: June 23, 2009 on Jagjaguwar
By: Jack Diablo
Spencer Krug just may be the next king of indie rock, if he isn’t already. He is the voice of Wolf Parade, one third of the Canadian super-group Swan Lake, and the genius behind Sunset Rubdown. Each of his bands has their niche, although some elements most certainly overlap. Wolf Parade is the flagship group while Swan Lake is an assembling of Montreal’s indie rock dream team. Some might consider Sunset Rubdown a side project, relegated to appeasing the likes of only the most dedicated fans. But what started as a lo fi home recording solo project could actually turn out to be Krug’s most appealing work.
On the latest album, Dragonslayer, Spencer Krug is joined by Jordan Robson-Cramer, Michael Doerksen, Camilla Wynne Ingr, and new addition Mark Nicol. Whereas the previous release, Random Spirit Lover, was a heady, layered voyage into uncharted sonic territory, Dragonslayer is far more commercial and fit for human consumption. Or at least it seems to sound that way at first.
In truth, the new album is probably just as complex as the last, if not more so. Only this time it’s buried a little deeper. Rather than push you headfirst, Dragonslayer takes you by the hand and coaxes you into the rabbit hole. It is entirely possible to listen to it and appreciate it on a surface level almost immediately, especially with catchy (even danceable) ditties like ‘Idiot Heart.’ But hidden gems on this album will have you scratching at their core to figure out how to wrap your head around them.
‘Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!’ borrows names and themes from Greek myth, adding the classic buffalo metaphor to illustrate things moving on. It’s a very complex story that requires an intimate knowledge of occidental mythology (or an elementary ability to search Wikipedia) to digest. But its worth a little digging to make the connection when Krug asks, “And where have you been, Erato?” referring to the Muse of love and erotic poetry whose lyre Apollo created. And again with, “Will we ever find our way into Cassandra’s gaze again?” Cassandra being the Trojan princess who scorned the god of oracles and received his curse: that no one would believe her prophecies. But the main character in the song seems to be the mysterious Anna, revealed to be the ever-chaste goddess of the hunt Artemis, sister of Apollo, who for some reason has changed her name. What deed was done that caused all of this decay is never made clear but the song ends with the chorus asking, “Anna, Anna, Anna, Oh! Why’d you change your name?”
Sung in the rhythm of a limerick, ‘Black Swan’ is half tragic love song, half fairytale. The chorus says it all, “My heart is a kingdom, where the king is a heart, and my heart is king, the king of hearts.”
For some reason I have yet to figure out, the song ‘Paper Lace’ is the exact same track found on Krug’s latest Swan Lake album, Enemy Mine. It’s a great song but it doesn’t compute why he would use it for two different bands. If anything, it signifies the direction in which Sunset Rubdown seems to be moving. It’s more digestible, slightly poppy, with a distinct chorus and lyrics that are relatively straight-forward such as “What’s in the world? What’s in the hearts of pretty girls?” Nothing veiled or metaphorical about that.
Similarly in ‘Nightingale / December Song,’ the contrast is drawn between those who live hard and fast and those who hang around a while longer. The steadfast and the flighty are compared to flames when Krug sings, “But like all fireworks and all sunsets, we all burn in different ways: You are a fast explosion, and I am the ember.” Here he makes no qualms about living a modest life compared to the antagonist who aims to “live a single day the way I live a single year.”
At the end of the album, Krug convinces us the war isn’t over yet and expects to “fight the good fight for another couple of years.” By dedicating ‘Dragon’s Lair’ to “the critics and their disappointed mothers,” Sunset Rubdown seem to be asserting that nothing will prevent them from making the music they want to make and putting their signature stamp on the industry. Krug boldly announces what lies ahead when he ends the album with, “So you can take me to the dragon’s lair, or you can take me to Rapunzel’s windowsill. Either way it is time for a bigger kind of kill.” One can only imagine what that bigger kill will be for this band, but color me excited.