Music Reviews

Sunset Rubdown Dragonslayer

(Jagjaguwar) Rating - 6/10

You know that sinking feeling of getting 80 percent of the way through a new album by a band you've loved and suddenly all you want to do is listen to one of their older albums? You say it's so that you can compare, but really you just want to reassure yourself that they do indeed rock despite whatever you were just listening to.

Dragonslayer isn't bad, but it's not great, certainly not compared to Sunset Rubdown's previous effort, Random Spirit Lover. And this is why I'm listening to The Mending of the Gown as I write this. No one needs me to tell them how incredible that album was, or the one before it, Shut Up I Am Dreaming - I know. Dragonslayer feels too safe and stunted because of that, occupying a rolling middle ground of overly familiar harmonies without the stunning contrast of the remarkable highs, haunting lows, and ever-shifting instrumentation of Random Spirit Lover. Krug has avoided his penchant for experimentation this time and this kind of reservation is anything but safe in the indie music circuit. And this is coming from someone who actually liked Island's Arm's Way for at least being a departure from their previous (extremely successful) debut album Return to the Sea, even if it was a departure into a more commercially accessible arena. It was new for them, and this is nothing new from Sunset Rubdown. Sure, I’ve looked around at a few other reviews and some are lauding the more stripped down nature of these songs, not as reliant on work done in the studio as songs on Random may have been. So, these songs might sound better live. So what? That doesn’t change the fact that most of them are too boring for me to care about the live quality of them. And I live in Florida so they will probably never come here anyway.

But let me say some nice things. Silver Moons is a solid opener that gave me the clichéd chills; between the slow build and groin-grabbingly good lyrics like “under all the folds of your dresses that you wear / there's an ocean and a tide and a riot in the square,” I was excited about what was to come. What follows is the danceable Idiot Heart, but maybe it's too danceable. I can already see the skinny jeans bouncing up and down to these in hipster bars around the nation. It slows toward the end with what sounds like a brooding, repetitive, synthesized tuba blast, before it almost, almost reaches the mind-blowing, punching yourself in the face highs of The Mending of the Gown or Up On Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days. The middle of the album meanders and Krug leaves us in repetitive beats for a little too long each time, in nearly every song. It feels drawn out, stretched too thin. To skip sadly and obviously far ahead to the next compliment, Dragon’s Lair is a nearly perfect song, one of their best ever, with a remarkable blend of all of the elements that make me get into fights with strangers about why Sunset Rubdown is better than Wolf Parade. It’s quiet and loud and beautiful and seems to shift each second into something you can’t pin down as it carries you along to the end. So just when I’m really starting to dig this album, it’s over.

Overall, these tracks feel more like the B sides of Random Spirit Lover, maybe the acoustic B sides, the tracks that didn't quite make the cut but would definitely be of interest to ardent fans. This feeling is likely accentuated by the fact that one of the (better) songs is literally subtitled Trumpet Trumpet II. I know, Krug does that a lot, there’s even a Snake’s Got a Leg III. We know that Sunset Rubdown’s work is cohesive, but maybe it's a little too cohesive this time. Here are too few songs, all a tad too long, with very few justifying their running times. I like it, and I will listen to it, but probably only because I was already a big fan of theirs. And I will listen to it most often at the office, not at my house during parties, or while I’m driving around. It feels like reading the essay of a kid who'd tried to write it the night before and went through and added as many commas, conjunctions, and double spaces between sentences as possible in order to churn out something he could call an essay. You can call this an album, but it's not the one you'd use to lure anyone into Sunset Rubdown fandom.