REVIEW: Moonface - "Julia with Blue Jeans On"


Moonface - Julia with Blue Jeans On
Release Date - October 29, 2013
Record Label - Jagjaguwar Records

Spencer Krug has been many things. His list of musical affiliations is a whose who of the Canadian music boom and its influence on indie music here in the good old US of A -- Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, Swan Lake. Krug's varied success in these outfits often standing at the head of the band as a principal songwriter puts him in the rarified air of recording mavens like Lou Barlow who seem to exist only for making, recording, and distributing music. Moonface is Krug at his most personal. Born as an outlet for his experimental and homemade releases, Moonface has become its own cottage industry with two proper albums and an EP to Krug's credit since 2010. The latest release Julia with Blue Jeans On is an evocative heart-ripper from first beat to last, comprised of only Krug and piano. The stark composition facilitates a kind of communion with Krug that we haven't had before. Here, his circular lyrical compositions aren't able to hide as the compositions' simple instrumentation facilitate a closeness with the music. There's no turning away from this record, it's gripping, emotive,  eccentric and Krug at his best.

On first spin, Julia with Blue Jeans On unravels itself as joyous song cycle. The repeated motif which connects "Barbarian" and "Barbarian II" is the admission (under a soft bass piano line in part 1), "I've been a barbarian most of my life." On "Barbarian" Krug, then, flips the image, "but sometimes / sometimes I'm a lamb up on your altar / just a lamb when I recall / when I asked you when you want to be married / and you asked me the name of the town where I was born." While "Barbarian" begins the album with a flourish, at the beginning of "Barbarian II" Krug gives the idea that he's slapping keys around, the low ominous roll coming into a rapid fire chaotic burst of notes before he returns to "I'm a lamb / I'm a lamb when I recall / When you asked me the name of the town where I was born." Here the gentle motif from "Barbarian" returns before the song again ends with the lament "I'm a barbarian."

There are moments on this record where Krug sounds at both his most personal and his most pop star. The ending of "Julia with Blue Jeans On" builds into Krug's steady warble as the tune dramatically rises. It's one of those moments where Krug seems to be both holding true to himself and holding court. As if the song were about to tip over the edge of irony but is held back by the sheer minimalism and superior musicality. Most of Julia with Blue Jeans On seems to ride along this razors edge between technical musicianship and raw emotive power. Lyrically, it's also in Krug's ability to see the miraculous win the quotidian.  Julia, of the blue jeans, Kurg sings, can "obliterat[e] everything I've written down." As is the case with Barlow, Krug possess that rare ability about musicians these days to challenge himself in whatever mode he's recording. Here the experiment is the juxtaposition of these emotive, sentimental moments from pedestrian insights against classical composition. "First Violin," for example, pits an off-kilter high-pitched line with a flurry of descending notes as Krug eschews a traditional melody for a wandering vocal line which seems to slide between the cascade of notes. "Black is Back in Style" is the most balladesque track on the album while Krug seems to narrate a dystopian novel:  "We gave the cities to the women / We thought it was the least that we could do / We were under the impression that freedom / Was more than just the freedom / To wipe shit off of your shoe." 

For listeners of Krug's other projects, Julia with Blue Jeans On will feel familiar in an odd sort of way. "Black is Back in Style," for example, resembles "Us One's in Between" with it's road narrative. Krug's phrasing (which might be the best in the business) on Julia with Blue Jeans On also feels like a muted version of "You Go on Ahead." The key difference between this album and many of his others is the absence of noise. There's no "Q-Chord" here. Nor is there the spacey, circus-esque jam sesh of "Colt Stands Up, Grows Horns." The joy of these songs is how Krug can make the unlistenable listenable. The "experiment" of Julia with Blue Jeans On is more about the relation of form and content from a different angle. Krug interrogates that line between emotive and technicality where the training ends and the rawness begins. Over and over on these tracks, we're treated to musical flourishes, accents, harmonies which seem to be pulled straight out of a conservatory. Yet, they never sound finished, fluid, or finessed. Krug's lo-fi approach enhances the album's musicality while simultaneously denying it the primacy of place that a lesser musician would. 


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