Shut Up I Am Dreaming
pencer Krug understands that a tarnished, unedited production hides nothing. And when you have nothing to hide, who needs varnish? Shut Up I Am Dreaming is but a few notches away from Apologies to the Queen Mary, but since the man at the helm is so fresh off the Wolf Parade boat, we’d be wise to expect only a cigarette break, not an outright departure, from Wolf Parade’s sound. Talk about instant gratification. Only months into our hangover from the gritty bombast of Apologies, we have another Krug project, Sunset Rubdown’s second album—the aural equivalent of the dust kicked up by the Wolf Parade tour bus. It’s an album that gifts us with Wolf Parade’s nearly abusive guitar-drum-synthesizer trio, but puts them in the hands of different people and adds a few twinkling cameos from the piano family. This foursome’s insights are peripatetic and transcendent, pulling inspiration from Eastern European folk, post-punk, 16th century European Art music, New Wave, obscure sources I don’t know about, and their own heads: four trajectories that we can only chart by listening.
At shows, Krug is self-effacing—even band-effacing, dropping comments like, “I love the awkward silences between our songs” (causing infatuated crowds to roar in protest). He has the gracious habit of addressing songs to specific people (or personifications), which deflects the self-absorption critics may want to assign his howling old dog of a voice. In the end, Shut Up is riddled with modesty: a complex treatise on mortality, pride, and guilt, and a preemptive and occasionally reluctant apology to some queen or another. So those passionate, piercing vocals act as reinforcement for what might sound like self-pity elsewhere (see Butler, Win, 2004). Sprinkle in a piano and a glockenspiel (“Us Ones in Between”), and you forgive Sunset Rubdown any of the post-Modest Mouse pomp left over from Wolf Parade’s knee-jerk reactionaries.
Sometimes, (“Snakes Got A Leg III”), it appears Krug has literally delivered his vocals by two-way radio from a sewer—the band’s relatively clean, close delivery contrasts with Krug’s echoic, tinny groans, yelps, and croaks, which communicate a confidence that feels merely imagined and flirted with, existing in a metaphorical, ambiguous realm: “If I was a horse / I would throw up the reins / If I was you / But I’m not a horse / And you are no angel.” What he is confident about is murky ambivalence and fragility: on “I’m Sorry I Sang on Your Hands That Have Been in the Grave,” a thumping harpsichord-driven rhythm supports, “I don’t only want to swim with you / In the water that you claim or has claimed you.” The song is a masterpiece, at once centuries old and utterly modern, constantly evolving, mystical, creepy, and heartrending.
Not to say pride doesn’t permeate the album, but the songs promote humanity—everyone’s ability to fuck up, to be wrong, and to fantasize about being right—as if humanity has been long underrated and abused. “If I ever hurt you / It will be in self-defense” is the refrain of “The Empty Threats of Little Lord,” but when Krug musters up enough courage to say anything offensive, it’s “If you ever come at me / I will hurt you” delivered in a feathery whimper.
Shut Up I Am Dreaming is a forty-five minute shrug by shoulders burdened with many an emotional quagmire. Sunset Rubdown subvert the boundaries of post-Mouse, illuminating those puzzles without burdening or nauseating the listener. The poetry is too good, the gloom too cached in symbolism and fine melodies to feel trite or melodramatic. Death and dying’s all good and well, but it’s possible to know the bounds of our existence while still enjoying lofty fantasies. Lovers don’t have wings yet, but it’s okay to dream.