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Random lover’s rock

In ‘Random Spirit Lover’ Wolf Parader Spencer Krug flirts with disaster but makes out OK.

First comes the screeching, “totally excellent!” guitar riff. Then, the aggressive, plunking chords of a very minor-key piano. Then, a tambourine, followed by the too-hurried crash of cymbals and – why not? – another, higher keyboard catcall. These and other layers make up “Mending of the Gown,” the opening track of Sunset Rubdown’s “Random Spirit Lover,” and from the press-play on forward, you can’t help but worry over how the hell this can possibly work.

It doesn’t, at first. The sounds together are maddening, almost unfit, as if frontman (and notorious musical multitasker) Spencer Krug was hoping to prove his genius by pasting together as many left-field arrangements as possible – but just ate the glue instead.

While Dan Boeckner (Krug’s other half in the dualing partnership that leads Wolf Parade) was assembling and then snapping apart the sparse, ghostly suites in side project Handsome Furs (ultimately made up of a voice, a straining, skeletal guitar and a drum machine), Krug has apparently been hard at work making sure Sunset Rubdown’s audience is sufficiently dizzied by his brand of manic carnival music.

See, the Montreal outfit’s third full-length is more than a brief bout of pop eccentricity playing tricks on the otherwise level-headed offerings – all across the dozen tracks (clocking in at just under quite possibly the longest hour in the world), sounds and themes keep seeping in and out of one another; mystifying fairytale lyrics are either echoed to the grave or well-buried beneath huge flourishes; shouted, melodramatic melodies somehow find their meandering ways back to the beginning, returning like old friends right when you’ve almost forgotten them.

If you’re not paying close attention, it’s a mess, with even the most swirling, shimmering (and decipherable) bits only vaguely illuminated by an occasional pause in chaos. Even after a few deep-listening sessions, you’ll likely still be at work unraveling the complex geometry behind all its densities.

Thank God “Random Spirit Lover’s” tracks have verses, choruses, and bridges, but they’re so architecturally complex and, eventually, so harmoniously joined that the boundaries between them are erased. It is ultimately Krug’s exquisite perfectionism that makes the album’s bizarre and elegant qualities complement each other without too much confliction.

At the very least, each song comes to preserve its own unique character, a testimony to the album’s careful crafting. “Magic Vs. Midas” employs piano peaks and valleys (up and down and up and down they go); “The Courtesan Has Sung” starts stiff before Krug’s roundabout phrasing dissolves into a whirlwind of barbershop-esque harmonies; “Winged/Wicked Things” obeys its title and becomes both bruising and delicate with the spike and fuzz of its sound. It’s exhausting but exhilarating once all Krug’s intentions are unpacked.

The woven lyrics and singular songwriting style of Sunset Rubdown invoke a mythological world, where magical narratives and tiny metaphors take a sometimes beautiful, sometimes beastly shape. Mixing omens and theatrics, confusions and conversions, the dark glamour of the music creates a tone of high drama where the stage is wild and the roles aren’t clear. It is then that the sincerity of Krug’s beloved project and the gleeful spontaneity of his subsequent recordings can’t help but shine through the intensely structural formality. And it is then that you can’t stay mad or frustrated at such intricacies when you should just probably shut up and surrender.

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