One afternoon, three door-to-door salesmen come to your house. None of them have the charm of those clean-cut, polite Jehovah’s Witnesses boys who came by the day before. The first salesman is selling a toaster. The second is selling a waffle iron. The third is selling an Easy-Bake Oven. If you’re allergic to wheat, none of these items are of interest to you; but if you’re not, when the unexpected fourth salesman arrives with a super combination toaster-waffle-iron-oven, it piques your interest.
Swan Lake will not bring any new followers to the indie music shrine. They’ll stick with the men wearing khakis and button-down shirts. But if the listener already enjoys the figurative indie music appliances, the new hybrid, Swan Lake’s “Beast Moans,” is a welcome addition to the collection. The album is delightfully bizarre and eclectic.
Swan Lake is an indie supergroup composed of Dan Bejar of The New Pornographers and Destroyer, Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes, and Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rundown. Though some tracks have collaborative sound, each member has a track where his influence dominates. On some tracks, the individual appeal that each artist may lack is subverted by the presence of the other two. At other times, however, it feels like one artist wrote a song and dragged the other two along for the ride. At these points of resistance, the albums veers into the realm of ugliness.
Despite this, the separate tracks feel almost irrelevant. “Beast Moans” is dependent on its status as a whole, how the tracks fit together and how the artists work together. It goes from poppy on the first two tracks, “Widow’s Walk” and “Nubile Days,” to anthemic, to experimental. Each transition feels appropriate — even the sharp, surprising changes in aesthetic, like on the penultimate track, “Are You Swimming in Her Pools?”
Keyboardist Krug provides the soundscapes on which Bejar and Mercer install the audio flora and fauna. “Beast Moans” goes on a vast tour — from eerie, almost whining vocals to the urgent guitar strummings and pointedly punctuated vocals, there is no audible overlap from track to track. Instead, the album’s sound leaps from environment to environment, bringing the suitable instrumentation and vocals with it. Each time the soundscape changes, it is distinct, but the album expresses a progression from place to adjacent place, rather than moving half-way across the proverbial globe with every track change.
The lyrics, on the other hand, are a random sampling of topics rather than a single journey. Religious symbols permeate the album, as in the song “All Fires,” which features the lyrics “One thousand people/ Did what they could/ They found a steeple/ Tore up the wood.” The lyrics, despite sounding deep, are often whimsical and aimless, belying the earthy quality of the music. There is a occasionally a disconnect between the subjects and the sounds of the tracks.
But “Beast Moans,” despite its unevenness, has its moments. The path it takes goes through some unsavory areas, but the opportunity to experience the album’s romantic and exotic locales is worth the minor aggravations of doing so.