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.
Earlier this year marked this site’s fifth anniversary of being a thing. At the time, I had wanted to do something to commemorate the instance, but time got the best of me. Fast forward to a couple of weeks back and Pitchfork put together their list of best albums/songs of the first half of the decade. Though not in tight agreement with them, I was still inspired to do the same, considering the dates line up with the creation of PMW. The big difference here is that I’m not trying to create a definitive list of “the best”, as that’s arbitrary - instead I will be highlighting my favorite ten albums of the past five years (which will probably change by the time I post this), and then an additional 40 that are all stunning works that just missed the mark on perfection. These titles will not be ranked, but rather presented alphabetically with links for streaming, should you be so inclined to seek them out.
So, without wasting any more of your time, let’s get to the list. Links will take you to Spotify when available, YouTube when not.
TOP TEN FAVORITES // 2010 - 2014
“This is Happening” by LCD Soundsystem // It’s the final pulse of one of my favorite bands. At the time of the release, I didn’t think that it could possibly best their previous album, but sure enough - it did. What sticks with me most is James Murphy’s often heartbreaking, often funny, always real lyrical content that felt like it was mirroring events of my adulthood, as Sound of Silver had done in my young adulthood. It was the soundtrack to a massive turning point in my life and I’m thankful for it’s existence.
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” by Kanye West // It’s one of the albums that I’ve came back to the most over the past five years. For all of Kanye's brilliance, it was this album that delivered on all promises and boasts. Absolutely top of the mountain production and delivery. It also doesn’t hurt that it contains one of the flat out best verses on any hip hop album of the decade with Nicki Minaj’s “Monster” verse.
“Oshin” by Diiv // A stunning collection of songs that prove you can still make powerful, beautiful music with guitars. Every song is magnificent, and each one feels like an integral piece to the whole. It’s one of those rock records that never sounds played out, and always gets my attention for it’s duration. Perfect.
“MBV” by My Bloody Valentine // Waiting for twenty odd years for a proper follow up to one of the best albums of all time has a tendency to elevate expectations, but Kevin Shields somehow met them head on while subverting them completely. It sounds like only My Bloody Valentine can, and after hearing two decades of pale imitators, it was incredible to feel the power of My Bloody Valentine once again.
“The Wilderness” by Cemeteries // A criminally overlooked and hauntingly beautiful album drenched in atmosphere that is both inviting and ominous. Like Beach House scoring a David Lynch project. Genuinely great in a way that so few albums ever achieve.
“High Violet” by The National // A heartbreaking collection of orchestral chamber pop from (possibly) America’s greatest band. Matt Berninger’s writing never fails to connect. Often aching, often triumphant.
“Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” by M83 // On this album, M83 aimed for the cheap seats and ended up on the moon. Massive synth pop anthems that feel like mini movies on their own. A truly beautiful collection of songs that make you feel like you can change the world with the right kind of love.
“Nocturne of Exploding Crystal Chandelier” by Sun Airway // Wildly overlooked as well. Sun Airway’s debut is stunningly beautiful and loaded with killer hooks for days. It’s one of those albums that feels like it’s some massive hit in an alternate universe, but sadly it’s an often overlooked gem waiting for a second or fortieth listen.
“Total Loss” by How to Dress Well // Tom Krell’s second album as HTDW felt like a revelation following the distorted, yet gorgeous world of Love Remains. Hearing his vocals pulled closer into the mix and unleashed on heartbursting beauties that call to mind slow jams of the early 90s and all sorts of assorted other things. It’s completely fresh and exciting as all hell.
“The King of Limbs” by Radiohead // My favorite band dropped a quiet, disarming LP that took a while to get settled into, but eventually unraveled into dozens of magical directions. TKOL found the band playing a loose and experimental style that lacked some of that early mastery, but still stood heads above almost everything else.
There you have it. A collection of brilliant music that has helped shape the last five years of my life (and certainly this blog). Of course, even looking back over this last now, I see plenty of places where I’ve missed things or placed unnecessary emphasis on others. It’s the price of falling in love with things, sounds, too easily. Then again there are much worse issues to have.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed the list and that maybe something stands out that maybe you missed on the first trip through. Go back and reconnect and discover something if you have the time. Lucky for you, once music is out there - it’s always there. Waiting for you to hit play.
you did not look back, you walked away. to be alone with your demons. i try to hate you, but don’t you know? darling - my demons are in love with yours.
i. track and field - running up that hill // ii. halsey - young god // iii. tamer - beautiful crime // iv. ellie goulding - mirror // v. james vincent mcmorrow - wicked game // vi. daughter - touch // vii. mumford & sons - broken crown // viii. florence + the machine - cosmic love // ix. bastille - requiem for blue jeans // x. angus & julia stone - devil’s tears // xi. jaymes young - moondust // xii. the civil wars - poison & wine // xiii. amber run - i found // xiv. natalie merchant - my skin // xv. slipknot - vermilion, pt. 2 // xvi. poets of the fall - carnival of rust // xvii. nine inch nailes - something i can never have // xviii. apocalyptica - not strong enough (feat. brent smith)
Description: I’ve included several songs off of Julia With Blue Jeans On in this list, but there was never any doubt in my mind that its title track would rank highest. A great deal of this has to do with its success AS a title track (broken down in my post about Hiss Golden Messenger’s “Devotion”)
Each song on the album tends to have a consistent emotional fervor that lends it a very specific character. It makes the album take on a sort of loose narrative arc with Julia as its central character. In order for this to work best, the title track, the centerpiece, needs not only to summarize the album musically and be able to stand out on its own merits, but follow a slightly different framework than the rest of the album.
“Julia With Blue Jeans On” achieves this goal by lightening up on the emotional intensity of the songs that precede it and giving the track a true arc of its own. From the opening notes on the piano, this song appears to be genuinely sad, yet a creeping optimism appears as the notes begin to shift and the vocals enter. For the next few minutes, the song builds in ways that might be too subtle to notice on first listen, but are nonetheless existent.
Eventually, around the 3-minute mark, Julia enters and the song takes a sharp turn. Instead of allowing the piano to conquer the song, Krug’s vocals dominate. Once the larger chords start to re-enter, Krug builds with them to an incredibly large climax. It is the true payoff of not just the song, but the entire album.
October always brings wonderful gifts in music and Moonface is proving us right by announcing the release of his new album Julia With Blue Jeans On which will be out just before Halloween (October 29).
Now, for some dumb reason we never wrote about the hauntingly beautiful and intimate show he played at Littlefield in Brooklyn last May, but we can tell you that he had us all so captivated that the slightest beer clanking or whisper could be heard in the room because there was no other sound but his voice and piano.
If you have been a fan of Spencer Krug throughout his career as we have, then this is an album you have been looking forward to and for what we got at Littlefield we can tell you it is as amazing as you thought it would be.
Listen to “Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark” below.
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.