I love Spencer Krug’s musical project Moonface. He picks one instrument each album that is the focal (or auditory?) point of the entire record and so far, each and every album has been a different, yet equally striking experience.
“Julia With Blue Jeans On” has picked the piano. I guess, for people who don’ t know his previous albums “Organ Music not Vibraphone Like I’d hoped” and his awesome collaboration with Siinai, this seems like any other singer/songwriter album and yet, it isn’t because Krug has a theatrical, nearly classical approach to his music. In a bold move, he starts the album with a 6+ minutes-song called “Barbarian” that keeps a low profile and could just as well be the soundtrack to a modern play in a Berlin theater in the mid 80s. After this one song, you wouldn’t be surprised if David Bowie would suddenly pop up and sing a few lines.
Whereas “Organ Music…” was an exhausting (but grandiose) ride, “Julia…” is low-key but still very dramatic and raw. I remember when I first listened to Krug’s project Sunset Rubdown and their Daytrotter-Session for the song “Shut Up I am Dreaming of Places Where Lovers Have Wings” and everything changed. This album feels a lot like this. Those notes and lines that tug at your heart and make you clench your fist because their beauty is too much to take.
Even though a musician and a piano is such a traditional combination, Krug understands why it works so well and works it out elegantly. The vocals shouldn’t overpower the piano, both should compliment each other and strengthen each other. He uses a raw sound, as if you’re sitting in a theater as the only guest and watch him on stage. It’s naked, vulnerable through the lack of embellished studio sounds but at the same time it is so much stronger because in concert, a piano always sounds more powerful than in any studio, it’s immediate, close, sometimes even a little intimidating.
Oh, and this man can write songs. John Grant’s incredible debut comes to mind or the impeccable “Songs for Drella” by Lou Reed and John Cale, these songs seem to have history, a real framework, a whole dramatic arc. And you just know that Krug’s vocals as well as his piano play could stand on their own and glow brightly but together they have a festive quality in songs like “November 2011” always a little odd as to fall into clichés, always a little up in the air as to feel tired.
“Julia…” is lovely, it’s a strong ballet dancer who makes every move look like she’s levitating and it is the dash of subtle theatricality that especially during winter times is much needed amidst all those horrifying christmas albums…