Welcome to Seven-Day Listen, in which we listen to one album every day for a week straight to see what we may find. This week: John Franklin Dandridge considers Sunset Rubdown’s Random Spirit Lover.
Last Autumn when I became fed up with my copy of Sunset Rubdown‘s Random Spirit Lover, for it didn’t play loud enough for some reason, I went to buy a new one. Since then, I’ve listened to it at least once a month, very loudly. Having become a Wolf Parade fan since seeing them open for Arcade Fire in 2005, Spencer Krug stole my attention with the Snakes Got A Leg EP and Shut Up, I’m Dreaming. When Random Spirit Lover was released in October of 2007, I was living in Wisconsin. Luckily, I moved back to Chicago just in time to see Sunset Rubdown play two shows at the Empty Bottle featuring the music of their latest album.
Those of my neighbors who are home on this mild Winter afternoon would love to complain about the volume of the triumphant opening song, “Mending of the Gown.” It’s nearly impossible to not listen to this album all the way through. And not only because of its seamless imagery and mythical description. Said Pitchfork upon its release, “…it’s Krug’s exquisite attention to detail that makes this such a striking album. Random… songs have verses, choruses, and bridges like most other pop/rock songs, but they’re so architecturally complex and harmoniously joined that the boundaries between them become erased.” Indeed. Not only is it nearly impossible to not listen to this album all the way through, it’s really difficult to do so without dancing tribally and singing along dramatically. My neighbors must truly hate me.
Where can one find more prolific lyrics than those on “Magic vs. Midas?” “You made me familiar with you in the dark when you said that you wish you were worse than you are.” So urban and contemporary, yet so timeless. And then on “Upon Your Leopard, Upon the End of Your Feral Days”: “You’re the one whose wild hide will weather in the weathering days to a leather made for princes to lay their princely heads of hair.” Bam! In headphones, “The Courtesan has Sung” sounds best. The drums are prolific, the harmony, genius.
After listening to it this many times so consistently—and I say this loosely—the album seems like a dialogue being retold to one speaker from the other speaker’s point of view. I’d like to see that theory threaded out and turned into a rock opera by the year 2024. But this dialogue thing, I feel it most during “Colt Stands Up, Grows Horns,” when Camilla sings and there seems to a perspective shift. As for the song itself, bands got away with this kind of shit in the early 70s, the dark, ethereal segues, but it’s rare that they even try nowadays. Spencer moves from the forest to the circus, to a purple night of sound that gallops into “Stallion.”
Even with an album as dense as textured as this, it hasn’t gotten old on the fourth listen. “The Taming of the Hands That Came Back to Life” reminds me of recent summers, elusive loves, late nights when my friends wondered drunkenly why I’m playing this album. “The Taming…” is full of Bowie-esque quips which shine over the anthemic beat. “It’s the taming of the hands that came back to life when she synchronized swam on the ice of ’03. Oh, but enough about me.” And, “she said: my sails are flapping in the wind. I said: Can I use that in a song? She said: I mean “the end begins”. I said: know. Can I use that too?” It’s the way these words flip so matter-of-factly, and then to have used part of that dialogue in the beginning verse, brilliant. And how the refrain “Will you live in the physical world?” pops in and out from almost nowhere, almost juxtapose to every other note and lyric of the song, is just gripping.
Much credit must be given to the band, Camilla Wynne, Jordan Cramer, and Michael Doerksen. They do a tremendous job. This album could easily be listened to one instrument at a time and be just as sweet.
“Trumpet, Trumpet! Toot! Toot!” – I remember thinking I was going to hit the ceiling when Sunset Rubdown played this live at the Bottle. I feel about this song the way Annie Wilkes felt about Misery. I believe the line goes, “It’s the most perfect, perfect thing. This and Michelangelo’s David.” After six days of hearing it my emotions stir no less, I dance just as tribally, and bellow the lyrics like a wolf. Though today, I keep it down a few notches, as my rent is late, and I don’t want to attract too much attention. Still, “Trumpet! Trumpet!” whips back and forth, trounces like a rubber comet.
It is such a foolish human condition to feel the need to have a “best of’”anything. Why do we feel so compelled to do it? It is really hard for me to not to deem Random Spirit Lover my favorite album, really hard. At the same time, I can understand how this album is not for everyone, which makes it even more significant. Things such as these shouldn’t be meant for everyone. Sleep well, neighbors.