Sunset Rubdown opens one world and shuts down another all in the span of the few opening moments of Dragonslayer, crystallizing everything that makes the Montreal band art-rock gods and transforming it into easy, accessible, rich and adventurous pieces of work that meld together as one electric, exhilarating tale.
“I believe in growing old with grace,” vocalist and leader Spencer Krug pronounces boldly near the middle of “Silver Moons.” He has the conviction and zeal of a wide-eyed soapbox preacher at first, but then cracks of misery and openness emerge as he belts the second line: “I believe she only loves my face.”
This drama, this sort of spectacular immensity, infuses every single second of Dragonslayer. It turns each piece of music into an epic and transforms each word into a portion of some fantastical script. As listeners, we hold on tight to our armchairs and to our wine glasses and to our hearts while Krug unveils his obsessions, fears, complications, and ponderings.
As a record, Dragonslayer is both astonishingly complex and dangerously simple.
The complexity arises out of Krug’s tendency towards the metaphor. Lyrically he is full of them. Sometimes he is full of shit, too. His affinity to unfolding cavernous, shadowy metaphors to speak simple truths is part of the mystery that engulfs Dragonslayer, but his ability to break through the facade every so often with a couplet of aching ease is what keeps the flame burning.
The simplicity is in the theatrics of it all. Sunset Rubdown ventures down innumerable hallways of musical genres, never settling in one district for too long. There’s new wave to be found on “Idiot Heart,” for instance, and there are marches and bells hiding in the grain of “Silver Moons.”
This brave, uncomplicated presentation of music, of art, strikes at the very heart of the music lover in need of something diverse and honest.
At the same time, one can’t help but imagine that the simplicity and accessibility of this record came entirely by accident. Krug is locked in his world of dragons and power and magic and “Paper Lace” and doesn’t seem to care if we’re there to fish him out or not. That speaks truth to art, doesn’t it? And it creates a self-sufficient world whether we want it to or not.
In that respect, listening to Dragonslayer feels like listening in on a world that operates abundantly and truthfully with and without our sanction. As good as “Paper Lace” and the ten-minute “Dragon’s Lair” are as individual songs, for instance, they aren’t good for our sake and they don’t exist for our sake either.
Dragonslayer is one of the best albums of 2009, if not the very best. Bursting with drama and fantasy enough to fuel its own world and its own spirit, Sunset Rubdown’s fourth LP is a record that lives and breathes on your shelf and in your CD player long after the last track has trotted away.