“Set fire to my music,” Spencer Krug sings on Julia With Blue Jeans On, “It wasn’t much good anyway.” If he’s serious, that explains a lot. Moonface, a moniker Krug attributes to his solo work, repeatedly redefines itself to such an extent that you’d think the songwriter were trying to make you forget his last effort. Not that he should. Moonface’s introductory Dreamland EP combined marimba, electronic drums, and imagery from Krug’s personal dream journal into 20+ minutes of buoyantly terrifying pop, and last year’s volcanic collaborative LP with Finnish band Siinai intermittently reached heights both lovely and apocalyptic. Krug’s only true dud — with Moonface, or as a member of Wolf Parade, Frog Eyes, or as Sunset Rubdown — is 2011’s Organ Music Not Vibraphone As I’d Hoped, a spastic, aimless electro-sprawl with nary a memorable moment.
As with its predecessors, Julia With Blue Jeans On forges new ground for the prolific artist, both musically and aesthetically. With no overdubs or backing vocals, the album features Krug, alone, at a piano. Instead of courtesans and snakes with legs, the lyrics focus instead on a single subject of romantic interest, with varying degrees of heartache. “Lyrically, I’m probably letting a lot of my old fans down,” Krug stated in an interview with Finnish publication Basso Media, declaring that his new lyrics are “more streamlined” and he never sees himself “returning to my old way of writing.”
And, though barbarians, sacrificial lambs, and biblical arks surface as metaphors in the album’s early tracks, the lyrics surrounding them are both simple and straightforward. “And I’m really sorry for your loss/ I can’t imagine how that feels,” Krug plainly consoles on “Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark”. “Please build yourself up/ Heaven’s cruel.”
At times, such lyrical simplicity is refreshing. At others, it’s so generic as to be forgettable, something you could never level at Krug’s more fantastical work with Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown. That said, the ultra-specificity of a lyric like “I’ve been living in the sleeves of the shirt you made me” enthralls, as does the occasional dash of black humor found on a track like “Love the House You’re In”, which begins with Krug’s “I regretfully withdraw my offer to try to improve myself.” Still, six years after its release, passages from Random Spirit Lover remain easily accessible; saying the same six years from now of Julie With Blue Jeans On seems unlikely.
Divorced from the glittering, synthesized sound of his early work, Krug’s impressive piano playing here sounds downright classical. Though the initial strains of opener “Barbarian” sound sourced from Randy Edelman’s Kindergarten Cop score, what follows tastefully evokes everyone from Philip Glass and Christopher O’Riley to piano pop maestro Ben Folds. Standout “November 2011”, the album’s most accessible and upbeat track, channels Folds in atmosphere and execution, while the ominous legato anchoring “Dreamy Summer” unsettles with the same ashen grace of early A Silver Mt. Zion.
That’s a wide-reaching set of influences, which may make Julia With Blue Jeans On sound more eclectic than it actually is. Krug’s skills at the piano are nuanced, and, sure, the songs themselves tend to drift together, a throng of storm clouds coalescing into one billowing mass of slate grey. Yet, lightning cracks within: See the title track’s soaring “da da da” refrain, or the theatrical moment of self-realization at the end of “Barbarian II”. Both electrify with the indescribable jolt of a static shock.
And, moreover, there is an undeniable power to Krug’s voice, a primal thing that’s always been suited for the sprawl of a vaulted auditorium. It’s there, not in bars or basements, that Julia is sure to thrive. As you listen, it’s easy to imagine Krug, in coattails and white gloves, tickling ivories with eyes closed, the thousand-deep audience peering through opera glasses, clutching at their pearls. Post-show cries for “Encore!”, though, are destined to fall on an empty piano bench, as Krug, shapeshifter that he is, will already be onto his next project.
Essential Tracks: “November 2011”, “Dreamy Summer”, and “Barbarian II”