Tuesday 2 June 2009

Review: Dragonslayer by Sunset Rubdown

So – later this month, Sunset Rubdown release their new record, Dragonslayer.

My first acquaintance with Sunset Rubdown came in the form of their previous album, Random Spirit Lover. I still remember sitting on a dark coach (sadly, the petrol-propelled rather than horse-drawn variety) gazing at the smeared lights of London through a window lashed by the rain, with wildly cascading scales and arpeggios ringing in my ears, and feeling myself suddenly encaptivated.

(It was only later that the congruence between that view through my window and the album's artwork struck me.)

Amongst other things, I loved the witty juxtapositions of sound, key and lyric. Most of all, I loved its joyous haphazardness, its infectious mania. It was definitely one of my favourite albums of 2007 (2007? Bloody hell, that's two years ago!) – and sparked an ongoing admiration for the band.

So you may well imagine that I have been eagerly anticipating Dragonslayer. And I stubbornly refuse to apologise for the fact that I shall doubtless be measuring it up, herebelow, against the yardstick of Random Spirit Lover.

Okay then, Heavy Soil – get out your yardstick

First song 'Silver Moons' establishes the pace in the same way that the excellent 'The Mending of the Gown' did for 'Random Spirit Lover'. But where 'The Mending...' was helter-skelter, bubbling over, madly inventive, scarcely contained, 'Silver Moons' is measured, atmospheric, grandiloquent. There's a heaviness here that's quite a departure from Random Spirit Lover's flightiness.

To me, the record approaches, at times, the sound of Wolf Parade (one of lead vocalist Spencer Krug's several other musical outfits).

And with the move away from flightiness, there's also a move in the direction of higher-fi. That's not to say that this is a glossily produced release – but the rawness of Random Spirit Lover (with its grittily massive kick drum sounds and oh-so-brittle guitars) is decidedly tamed, here – resulting, perhaps, in a more balanced mix ... but (to Heavy Soil's ears) one that's also less charming, more conventional.

The band recaptures the thrill of the earlier album fitfully. 'You Go On Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)' kicks satisfyingly into its outro, with the sense of surging into a home straight ... And there's still musical wit in here. The little guitar soloed snatch of 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' in 'Silver Moons', the pass-the-parcel countermelodies of 'Apollo And The Buffalo And Anna Anna Anaa Oh!'...

So, yes, let's talk about more of the good stuff

'Idiot Heart' is a standout track – possibly the album's best (we've already written about the song in isolation, but – for your convenience, here's a link to Idiot Heart mp3). 'Black Swan' is also pretty kickin', with its eerily insistent taps, snaps and clicks, and sudden tempestuous gusts of sweeping melody. It's no coincidence, I suspect, that these are two of the record's most uptempo and dynamically varied songs.

The heavy sinuousness of closing track 'Dragon's Lair' (= Dragonslayer, if you say it aloud, see?) is handled well, and the song justifies its ten-and-a-half-minute length, as themes (both lyrical and melodic) are teased out and organically developed.

And there are still those ebullient surges into Casio toy keyboard tomfoolery – but they're somehow a bit more sensible, a bit less adventurous, a bit more subdued.

Subdued, you say?

Yes, subdued.

Everything about this record feels safer than Random Spirit Lover. And perhaps that means more people will like it [what do you mean, 'jadedly cynical'? This is a music blog, damn it: what did you expect?]. But Sunset Rubdown have taken a step away from the territory that made them so interesting to me.

That's not to say there's nothing new here. There's more extensive (and effective) use of Camilla Wynne Ingr's backing vocals, which often superbly offset Spencer Krug's reedy squawks. And there's perhaps more consideration given to the delicacies of arrangement and mix – a more transparent sound – which allows details to shine through.

But there's nothing here that surprises me.

And I like surprises.

(Surprise presents are particularly nice. Postal address provided on request.)

So what you're saying is ...?

What I'm saying is: this is quite a good album. If I hadn't been bewitched and betwitched by Random Spirit Lover and were coming at this afresh, it would certainly be strong enough to make me take notice. It's just that, relative to the slapdash brilliance of the band's earlier work, it's slightly disappointing.

Get this: not enormously disappointing. Just slightly.

The omnipresent disclaimer: the mp3s herefromlinked are provided to allow you better to gain an impression of Sunset Rubdown's work. If you like, 'em, please go and preorder the album (Amazon UK)

No comments:

Related articles