Spencer Krug is making a serious claim for the title of “Hardest-Working Man in Indie Rock.” In addition to his primary role in Wolf Parade, he’s also recorded albums with Fifths of Seven, Frog Eyes, Swan Lake, and Sunset Rubdown — all since 2005. His most recent Sunset Rubdown offering, “Random Spirit Lover,” is his best work yet. It also dispels any uncertainty about Sunset Rubdown merely being a Wolf Parade side project: this is a full-fledged band that is at least as good as the group that spawned it.Random Spirit Lover is somewhat of a daunting listen at first. At 12 tracks and 59 minutes, it can be overwhelming to take everything in at once. The songs are long and often multi-sectioned. On top of this, each song leads seamlessly into the next — sometimes making it difficult to differentiate them from each other. However, over repeated listens, this ends up being one of the album’s biggest strengths. “Random Spirit Lover” has amazing cohesiveness, and over time reveals itself as the kind of album where skipping a track ruins the album’s flow and dampens the listening experience.
Of course, cohesiveness wouldn’t matter if the songs weren’t of extremely high quality. Fortunately, Krug’s songwriting is more than up for the task. Opener “The Mending of the Gown” begins amidst a swirling descending guitar line, before pounding pianos and Krug’s off-kilter vocals propel the song to wonderful heights — a truly joyous beginning to the album. “Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days” has a bouncy and infectious melody, while in the darker “Winged/Wicked Things” Krug sings about themes such as religion over a majestic guitar hook.
The real heart of the album starts with “Stallion,” a nearly 7 minute epic with haunting piano that eventually descends into a chill inducing chorus of “oohs.” “For the Pier (And the Dead Shimmering)” is even better, propelled by the brilliant use of steel drum. Finally, “The Taming of the Hands that Came Back to Life” features another memorable guitar hook and some of Krug’s most interesting lyrics: “Will you live, will you live in the physical world?/With the sun setting low and the shadows unfurl/Can you live with the way they make you look unreal?”
As good as Random Spirit Lover is, there are a handful of uninspired moments. During the beginning of “The Courtesan Has Sung”, Krug yelps over some percussion in a way that does not entirely work. Furthermore, the album’s last few songs, while still pretty good, aren’t quite up to the standards of those that preceded it.
Still, these are fairly minor quibbles. “Random Spirit Lover” is an impressive achievement, one that any band, side project or not, should be proud of. Spencer Krug is not only one of the hardest working people in indie rock — with “Random Spirit Lover,” he’s proven himself to be one of the best.