On “Random Spirit Lover,” the listener is at once the princess of a far-away balladeer rock kingdom, and Sunset Rubdown her minstrel. With lyrics about courtesans and riding leopards, and music that incorporates instruments such as the glockenspiel (of “The Magic Flute” fame), Sunset Rubdown transforms the standard pop album into a twisted, fairy tale universe. “Random Spirit Lover” is so detailed and in such constant flux that it requires one’s full attention. Listening to the album is an event.
Sunset Rubdown began as a solo side project of Spencer Krug, the keyboardist and songwriter for Wolf Parade. Krug self-produced 5 EPs before adding more people, all borrowed from other bands, to complete Sunset Rubdown’s lineup. The current composition of four musicians released its first full-length album, the slightly disappointing “Shut Up I’m Dreaming,” last year. But while Sunset Rubdown is still far less accessible than the stripped-down pop of Wolf Parade, it has come into its own with “Random Spirit Lover.”
With tracks that blend into each other and the chaotic overlay of instruments, the album is an initially overwhelming hour-long wall of sound. The aesthetic of the album is most well articulated on the first and best track, “The Mending of the Gown.” The vocals and instruments drop in and out, the tempo changes abruptly and the combination of sounds alternately pummels and soothes the listener.
“The Mending of the Gown” is also representative in terms of length: the tracks, which only drop below 4.5 minutes twice, luxuriate in time, roving between sonically diverse landscapes. The album’s strength as a whole stems from this — the thematic musical transitions other artists create over an entire album, Sunset Rubdown packs into one track. Ambitious in their use of multiple musical techniques, they jump between rousing Celtic strains and rounds that hearken back to the days of elementary-school renditions of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”
“Courtesan Has Sung,” which begins in a round, is like SparkNotes for “Random Spirit Lover”: being caught between the fantasy and innocence of childhood and a crueler world that turns formerly beautiful things sour pervade the symphony. As “Upon Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days” narrates, a beautiful princess will inevitably become little more than a leathered hide for a prince to lay his head on. Krug lays it out plainly: “Well shit, I know we’re all growing old,” and this dichotomy between innocence and acidic reality is the momentum that drives the album.
However, the songs do occasionally feel too long, and the slower tracks, like “Setting Vs. Rising,” jolt the listener rather than offering a reprieve from the intensity of the up-tempo numbers. Most of all, “Stallion,” almost seven minutes of discordant, aimless wandering, is hard to listen to all the way through.
While “Random Spirit Lover” has dud tracks and moments when the tumult of sound falls apart, it is worth hearing the musician’s tale to its completion.