There’s always been an epic quality to Spencer Krug’s musical output. From the ecstatic cries of “I’ll Believe In Anything” on Wolf Parade‘s debut LP to the mythical narrative of Swan Lake‘s “All Fires” off the supergroup’s Beast Moans to the numerous proggy excesses of Sunset Rubdown‘s 2009 album, Dragonslayer, Krug has often explored moments of great struggle and adventure, while still finding room for odd digressions and human quirks. His heroes can be brave and romantic, but they’re just as often inarticulate, confused and even rude. This ability to toggle between the epic and the intimate is not simply a hallmark of his lyrics but of the music itself. Even at their most muscular and grandiose, his various bands often sound like they’re playing with toy swords, more Mister Rogers’s Neighborhood than Game Of Thrones. On With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery Krug uses his Moonface moniker to team up with Finnish krautrock band Siinai, and he finally gets the majestic, epic backing his heroes deserve.
Siinai is a swirling, triumphant band that can conjure images of castles and bong hits with only a few drum beats. They actually sound like they could play in stadiums and shrines, not just sing about them. At first glance the group feels like an odd pairing for Krug, given his penchant for more traditional anthemic guitar tones and skeletal synth sounds, but from the first drum hits and piano chords of the opening title track, it’s evident that this is a match made in black-light heaven. Siinai brings a patience and steadiness to Krug’s songwriting, allowing his stark and strange lyrics to hit even harder than usual. “Now I want your sex/But I am not the fox/With blood-stained lips/Standing over the kill,” he sings on the opener. As is often the case with Krug, it’s creepy but also oddly moving.
Violence and sex hang over the album, guiding the decision process of the narrators of each song, but not in a salacious way. Instead, there’s a palpable sense of regret to many of these tracks. Siinai matches this regret with subtle, wooshing arrangements that unfold gracefully, revealing their complexity over time. Their work here warrants comparison to the great, steady ballads of early Police records or late ’80s/early ’90s U2. On the standout slow-burner “Quickfire, I Tried,” the band does its best Achtung Baby impression as Krug sings, “Quickfire I tried to be fun/But by the time I was drunk you were gone.” The next song is built around a spry beat and a slinky keyboard riff, but even that song calls attention to the themes of inadequacy and disappointment with its title “I’m Not The Phoenix Yet.”
At times the band’s total mastery of medieval sweep and psychedelic video game rock can be an odd pairing with Krug’s confessional lyrics. Take “Teary Eyes And Bloody Lips” for example. With its lyrics packed with references to Stevie Nicks, bicycles and suicide doors, it can be jarring to realize this music is not being beamed directly into your brain from an alien space craft in some netherworld. Instead, it’s the product of a group of people with basic human concerns and desires. On the haunting dirge “Headed For The Door” Krug strikes the perfect balance between his conversational phrasing and the band’s mystical pull. Over a military march beat supplemented with some congas, Krug sings, “She was only 23/Or she was only 24/I headed for the door.” Stretching out past the seven-minute mark and featuring a spoken-word interlude, the song eventually explodes in a roar of synthesizers, a bombastic moment that feels both indulgent and totally earned.
It can be hard to keep all of Spencer Krug’s side projects straight, and of all the side projects, Moonface is the most difficult to label. The now-defunct Wolf Parade was the anthemic indie-rock traditionalist group; Sunset Rubdown is the quirky side-project-turned-prog band; Swan Lake is the “taking a vacation from my primary band” supergroup; but Moonface is what, exactly? Apparently the name mostly exists so that Krug can release odd material he finds interesting and collaborate with other like-minded creative folk. In many ways, Moonface feels like a refuge for Krug, a place to hide away, nurse old wounds and make plans for the future. Moonface is a lot like a castle or a secret clubhouse, and it’s a pleasure to be let inside.