Spencer Krug, one of indie-rock’s most prolific and schizoid songsmiths, has always displayed a knack for channeling broad emotions through fucked-up sentiments. But I’m not sure anybody was prepared for the title track to Heartbreaking Bravery, his third left-field collection under the Moonface moniker. “When you were next to the wild animals / I was a baby still on the tit,” Krug sings in his trademark Bowie-with-hiccups yelp, over echoing piano chords and shimmering bass drones. “Now I want your sex, but I’m not the fox with blood-stained lips / Standing over the kill.”
It’s not a totally unexpected influx of artiness: His quirky tunes in Wolf Parade typically defied traditional pop parameters, even if the hooks were razor-sharp; and in Sunset Rubdown, he often flirted with straight-up prog. And judging by the skippable quality of his prior two albums (the literally, accurately titled Marimba and Shit-Drums and Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped), the Moonface project appeared to be nothing more than an outlet for his messiest, most puzzling musical ideas: a catch-all umbrella for b-side-quality material. Heartbreaking Bravery is pretty far-out and difficult to pigeonhole, even for Krug’s standards—but what sets is apart from the rest of his catalog is a dark, throbbing instrumental cohesion. The bad news is that hooks have all but evaporated, but in their place are plenty of towering, wondrous headphone soundscapes—mostly conjured by Siinai, a Finnish kraut-rock quartet Krug previously met on a Wolf Parade tour.
The mingling of talents is startlingly effective: “I’m Not the Phoenix Yet” is a rousing highlight, filled with circus-tent synth and a spacey, motorik pulse. “Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips” sounds like Arcade Fire drowning in druggy static (and the lyric “Teary eyes and bloody lips make you look like Stevie Nicks” might be the most hilariously awkward pick-up line in rock history). But for all its psychedelic magic, this certainly isn’t “easy” stuff: Even Krug devotees will need some patience (and, maybe, a little heartbreaking bravery of their own) to emerge unscathed. Which, ultimately, might have been the whole point.