Moonface With Siinai

Heartbreaking Bravery

Having finished with the Canadian indie scene and his marimba stylings for the time being, ex-Wolf Parade man Spencer Krug’s new project sees him turn to thundery, occasionally anthemic krautrock as his new favoured form. Krug met members of Siinai when they toured Europe with Wolf Parade in 2009 and, after some cross-continent songwriting, headed over to Finland to cut With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery earlier this year, adding vocals and keyboards to their music.

Driving the album is Siinai’s love of precision. Together with Krug, they take painstaking care to make sure that nary a single drum rap is on track without being part of a clinically-planned pattern. This sort of creative limitation is par for the course with Krug. It was the guiding aesthetic for his Sunset Rubdown side project, as well as his first two releases under the Moonface moniker: the Dreamland EP from 2010 helpfully outlined its sole instrumentation with its subtitle Marimba and Shit-Drums, and 2011’s Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, was equally, if slightly less literally, self-explanatory.

The title track opener is a lumbering, mid-length behemoth, albeit a good one, built from stomping drums and nonchalant snares, icy flourishes of piano and a chorus wash of undulating guitar. Over this, Krug intones ‘heartbreaking bravery, exists’, his elegiac tenor wringing the words with the necessary tonal dualism they require. ‘Shitty City’ (which, alongside Dreamland‘s ‘Shit-Drums‘ and the first album’s ‘Shit-Hawk In The Snow’ makes up Krug’s ‘Shit’ opus) is a sheer joy. A bed of noise, interpolated by an aggravated synth and guitar loop, resolves into something song-shaped: Krug’s vocal sweeps in for a midpoint chorus, before the song reduces back to the bristling soundscape. The lyrical onus on escape picks up the Springsteen trope that started with ‘Yesterday’s Fire’s bright, defiant piano clanks: Krug proclaims ‘We should have gotten swerve, we should have gotten good / We should have gotten out of this town, while we could’. A cliche maybe, but rendered well in his hands.

From here on though, things get patchy. ‘Faraway Lightning’s lyrics of elemental rage and ritualistic toms are matched to a submerged, almost dissonant figure from Krug’s favoured marimba, but ‘10,000 Scorpions’s collision of keyboard tones is either grating tomfoolery or electronic onanism, depending on your mindset.

Siinai’s knack for precision translates across to some immaculate production. Each instrument is beautifully recorded, particularly the driving, resonant kick-drum on ‘Headed For The Door’. Krug’s voice also benefits from this thoughtful approach: already a thing of reedy beauty, treated with some echo on ‘Shitty City’, it becomes ascendant, scaling previously unheard heights. When he sings the last line, the echo cuts out, leaving a close, dry sound, adding a lingering sense of desperation behind that erstwhile defiant cry.

In spite of their "patience for music that slowly evolves", Siinai get a better pay off from their less extended moments. Penultimate track ‘Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips’ is 2:47 of brilliant, metallic rock that lends the album its best moment, with the seismic uplift of fizzing synths and glacial piano that back a rare moment of contentment for Krug, speak-singing ‘you looked so beautiful then and you look so beautiful now’. In counterpoint, closer ‘Lay Your Cheek On Down’ has the necessary grandeur to end such an expansive set, but the repetition doesn’t so much evolve here as get a little laboured.

But With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery is by no means a disappointing turn; it is, by some distance, Krug’s best work as Moonface. It’s riveted with some glorious, soaring moments and the taut motorik rhythm is a compulsive mesh for the album. It’s hard to shirk the feeling that Krug should just dispense with his need for stylistic constraints and put out a set of songs bristling with a touch of Wolf Parade’s eclecticism, though that could be a long time coming. He thrives on sonic channel-hopping, the only constant being his convictions, be they in his instrumental, thematic or collaborative choices. Tacked to some other style or sound, though, Krug may well rise to the greatness hinted at here.

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