Spencer Krug lives in Helsinki now. Of course he does. He hasn’t always; he used to live in Montreal. He used to tour a lot with his buddy Dan Boeckner, and they made some powerful songs together as Wolf Parade. Krug’s other band, Sunset Rubdown, reached some equally impressive heights, but for some reason he stopped Sunset Rubdown and then stopped Wolf Parade and then left North America and now he makes Moonface albums, which have had their moments but are far from the confident, focused songs with which we first met him. It has appeared to be a purposeful recession away from the expected. Like moving to Finland.
Honestly, he might have a really normal reason for living in Finland, and he might have a really understandable reasoning behind his career choices. On Julia With Blue Jeans On, Krug’s third album under the Moonface moniker, the move is to strip everything bare, just him and a piano singing honest, romantic and unguarded songs that have their peaks and have their craters, as is coming to be expected from the gifted songwriter.
Opener “Barbarian” is a masterful self-examination, nostalgic and inviting, made more effective by the knowledge that Krug plays all the piano on the collection as he sings, recorded by playing the album straight through over and over again. The piano parts are gracefully written to complement the vocals and capable of stealing the show on their own.
The songs fade into each other, often making it difficult to observe a track change, with certain lyrics or melody choices ringing true (“Love the House You’re In” has a piece about “sitting on the balcony, doing blow, playing chess with myself” that perfectly encapsulates my image of Krug). On the excellent “Black Is Back In Style,” it can be a line like “We will let our hearts run wild and they will come back late, and they will come back black, but then we’ll learn that black is back in style,” that balances the abstract and the tangible and makes the action seem worth the effort and emotion conveyed.
This is not always the case. “Everyone is Noah, Everyone in the Ark” is exactly as it sounds, an extended metaphor using the Biblical story of Noah (or maybe literal retelling?), and it seems so half-baked that laughter as a reaction is hard to repress, drifting into the kind of Branson one-man-show melodrama that can best be compared to Dracula: The Musical. “Dreamy Summer” drifts into this same difficulty at times; at eight minutes long, it feels like Krug is just telling us too much, giving spare details that distract more than they add or are delivered so heavy-handedly the listener can feel like a student held hostage more than a willing participant in the engagement.
Krug is someone worth rooting for, and it has to be a good thing that he is off in Scandinavia pursuing artistic whims. It’s his life, and he is surely living it toward his own fulfillment. But any mutual contract that comes with making music professionally suffers. Moonface is essentially making Krug more admirable and less enjoyable. Depending on what you look for, that is the measure of its success.