Julia With Blue Jeans On is one of the most achingly personal yet mysterious albums I’ve heard. Although the title track is usually more noted , “November 2011” always clawed at my heart a little more. I remember when I first listened to it I thought the woman was leaving on her plane. She had finally built up enough something to take off. On her last day, she visits the narrator to tell him.
Spencer Krug is Moonface. Moonface, it turns out, is a side project which was born of a side project (Sunset Rubdown) which kind of began with Wolf Parade, both Montreal-based bands (and both currently disbanded). Before all this, Spencer played piano and guitar in Penticton, British Columbia. Somewhere in the middle of growing up in Penticton and succeeding to nuture his talent in Montreal, Spencer Krug lived with his roommate in Victoria, BC.
For some reason, this was extraordinary news to me, news I didn’t learn until I had settled into the album. Julia With Blue Jeans On, haunted by Krug’s lyrics, had by then traveled with me up and down the Malahat during rainstorms. I had played it quietly in the car while it snowed on the way to a beach. A selection of memories had become rooted in what Spencer Krug had created. In his first years away from home, Spencer was here.
The other day I was driving home and “November 2011” began playing as I turned onto Shelbourne. It occurred to me that the woman’s plane might not be taking her away from the narrator, but rather to him.
The word “prolific” is bandied about pretty readily these days, but in the case of Spencer Krug it’s not just appropriate, it’s an understatement.
A founding member of Wolf Parade, Krug’s played in numerous bands, including Frog Eyes, Fifths of Seven, Sunset Rubdown, and Swan Lake.
Presumably named after the character of the same name in Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree series, Moonface is Krug’s latest musical venture and on this, his third album under the Moonface moniker (released last month by Jagjaguwar Records), the songs are stripped down to just his voice and a piano.
The result is far less chaotic than much of his previous work, and consequently, potentially more accessible. Many of the tracks have are almost cinematic in character, and I’m a sucker for that.
Krug first caught my attention when a friend sent me Sunset Rubdown’s third album, “Random Spirit Lover”, while I was living in Melbourne for a few months in early 2008. Aside from his quirky and potently emotive voice, what drew me in were his whimsical song titles and lyrics.
For example, on the Sunset Rubdown track “The Taming of the Hands that Came Back to Life” Krug sings:
She said, “My sails are flapping in the wind.” I said, “Can I use that in a song?” She said, “I mean the end begins.” I said, “I know. Can I use that too?”
The lyrical finesse is still pervasive on “Julia with Blue Jeans On”, but it’s a more introspective and Weltschmerz-laden flavour than Krug's usual fare. It may be his best work yet, it’s certainly his most direct.
I can identify with Spencer Krug. Wolf Parade made such a strong initial impact before fizzling out, it’s no wonder he decided to try all sorts of different things under the Moonface moniker. Well, he finally landed on something great with this record and “Black is Back In Style” is one of its highlights. Krug’s turns of phrase are as strange and ambiguous as ever, but he’s starting to pair them with his vocal stylings more effectively now. Let’s hope Moonface’s next record stays on this track.
The highest praise I can give this is that it sounds like it should’ve been released as a solo project under Spencer Krug’s name. He’s one of my favourite songwriters of the past decade, he knows when to cloak his words in metaphor and when to be brutally honest, but on this album he leans toward the latter. Hauntingly sparse pianos are his only accompaniment as he tears through a series of self-examinations, ten tracks with almost as many highlights, and the critical press generally agree. And yet, in its lack of a full band, it seems to have slipped past many.
(Allow me to take a break from the history of me to bring you a brand new moonface song…)
(When my buddy StevieV and I saw him perform this song live at Montreal’s Il Motore in May, I think it was about 11 minutes long. Spencer Krug’s new record as Moonface entitled Julia With Blue Jeans On will be released the same day his friends Arcade Fire release Reflektor. I wonder if he’ll give them a run for their money?)