On “Winged/Wicked Things,” Spencer Krug – Sunset Rubdown’s versatile frontman – chimes, “And chaos is yours and chaos is mine.” It’s not so much a single line in a fine song as it is a manifesto – one Krug exhibits throughout the band’s Random Spirit Lover.
Just look to “Colt Stands Up, Grows Horns.” Easily the most bemusing track on the album, Krug employs ridiculous fun-house piano convulsions to connect the catchier, single-heavy first third of the album with the dreary yet effervescent middle third. It can be considered the lucid link that defines Random Spirit Lover’s movements, or it can be viewed as the most disjointed, frustrating track on an album with no other purpose than for Krug to show some pretentious edge.
But that’s what Krug wants: a chaotic mess that only works when the entire storybook is read from cover to cover. If 2006’s Shut Up I Am Dreaming was a dark novel that showed his melodramatic front, lacing tracks with poetic prose and dreary, sweeping melodies, then Random Spirit Lover is Krug’s frantic fairy tale that shows one of music’s top harmonizers, keyboardists and lyrical virtuosos, proving that we may have the next man that expands the genre of indie rock.
Random Spirit Lover is very much a fairy tale. It’s lengthy – just shy of an hour – and it has complex tales intertwined with images of courtesans and leopard riding, thespians and lepers. Krug’s metaphorical, whimsical lyrics continue to identify Sunset Rubdown, just as they have done with his other bands Wolf Parade and Swan Lake. Take “Up on Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days,” which finds Krug assuming the role of a lover in turmoil as he belts, “Cause you’re the one who’s riding around on a leopard / You’re the one who’s throwing dead birds in the air,” or “The Taming of the Hands that Came Back to Life,” where he drawls, “Don’t get too close / You’ll detect the West Coast air in my chest / And the way I hold it in there.” Both tracks are seemingly idiosyncratic, but when taken in context with the rest of the album, each seem a little less odd, allowing the listener to explore the undertow of the lyrics rather than the absurd imagery.
Though Sunset Rubdown is very much Krug’s brainchild, the emergence of Camilla Wynn Ingr’s lovely falsetto melds magically with Krug’s masterful piano hysterics. “The Mending of the Gown” hectically probes a complicated tale of a gown and two lovers in which Ingr and Krug’s vocals reverberate together, while the frantic keyboard freight-trains toward a climax of “And the running and the running and the running and the running around!” The same can be said for “The Taming of the Hands that Came Back to Life,” which thrusts the final portion of the album toward clarity after the fashioned chaos of the midsection. Ingr’s silky cries ground the beginning of the track against a dominant percussion set before Krug takes over. The track might be self-reflexive since he explores his thoughts on songwriting. But even Krug realizes his pitfalls, reacting with his female counterpart by only describing her in ways he could write a song. This subtle occurrence may just reflect the extreme concentration paid to the intricacies of the album before Krug breaks out of his mindset with the timely placed line of, “Oh, but enough about me.”
The movements of Krug’s fairy tale are hardly typical – sonic jumps from the complete chaos of a song like “Stallion” with its eerie, “Edward Scissorhands”-esque piano plinks cascade into “For the Pier (and dead shimmering).” The track’s feathery guitar strums and pseudo-steal drum raptures work as the perfect antithesis to the prior, dreary piece. The same goes for the penultimate and closing tracks. “Trumpet, Trumpet, Toot! Toot!” – the closest thing to anything on Shut Up – features a disjointed, ghostly suite that dumps into the subtle acoustic closer “Child-Heart Losers.” It’s the perfect conclusion to this bizarre fairy tale: soft-spoken vocals, simmering guitar strums and a self-reflection as Krug and Ingr chime, “Why so many, many, many, many, many, many violins?”
Chaos is Krug’s medium. Taken in parts, Random Spirit Lover is overwhelming. But what great story makes sense when read out of order? So when Krug belts, “And chaos is mine,” it’s true: He’s the Picasso of chaos, becoming the master keyboard counterpart among the big-name list of Tweedy and Mangum.
4.5 out of 5 stars.