Looking back at Expo ’86, Wolf Parade’s last album, you can kind of hear a hiatus coming. It’s a solid record, but compared to its predecessors it’s a bit bloated and unfocused. The urgency isn’t quite there, and there are moments where you can feel the band’s exploration running thin. They certainly don’t fall off, they’ve just done all they could, at least for now.
The strain of that, trying to force it in moments, puts some weight on that record, but now free of Wolf Parade, Spencer Krug has made his side project Moonface his main focus. After the one-song, 20-minute Dreamland EP: Marimba and Shit-Drums, Krug returns with Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped and you can’t ever call him out for false advertising. These expansive songs are layered with organs, some basic drum-machine beats, and Krug’s voice. That’s it. But with this basic focus, the vitality in Krug’s sound has come back. There’s an urgency and inventiveness to these tracks, a force behind them that give them an immediate punch, even as each song expands and takes on layers and shifting tones over their long running times.
The five songs that make up the record all run around seven or eight minutes, and if that seems like a lot of organ to deal with, well, it is. But Krug, despite reliance on one instrument, manages to pull off a lot of variety, mostly by making the songs’ movements seem organic. These tunes simultaneous bring to mind the insistent repetition of Kraftwerk and the sharp, precise notes of Philip Glass. That’s not to say this is krautrock, or classical, or anything other than ambitious pop music, and each song succeeds on its own terms. Opener “Return to the Violence of the Ocean Floor” blips and boops along with cool, spacey notes, and Krug’s echoed voice fills the space over them. But tumbling riffs layer over the simple start and, by the end, the song has quietly bloomed into something more up-tempo, some excellent 8-bit jock jam.
Elsewhere, “Whale Song (Song Instead of a Kiss)” begins with a stark, horror-film tension, but it takes on frenetic riff after frenetic riff –building to a climax that never comes — until the song is a dense, chilling swell of sound. “Fast Peter” seems more direct in comparison, mostly sped-up electro-pop shine, but it crumbles into shapeless organ vamping in the end.
These sort of surprises continue to come up throughout the record. The repetition of these songs is mesmerizing, and that is what pulls you into this record and makes the growth of layers so satisfying. When Krug breaks things up to solo on the organ, it upsets the dream world of the record a bit since the unassuming, simple pieces of the songs get plenty complicated when they start working together. So while “Fast Peter” starts lean, it’s the only number here that almost falls apart when the structure breaks down in its second half.
Lyrically, Krug goes back and forth as well. His voice, that wobbling croon, works perfectly here, sometimes cutting through the digital haze, sometimes weaving into it. What he says, on the other hand, can sometimes throw you off. The oddball associations he makes at times (“Talking heads make me miss my friends” or “Seagulls in a blizzard make me see how much I miss her”) might be quirky, but they feel forced next to his more careful observations. On the glitchy and wonderful closer “Loose Hearts = Loose Plans” you can feel the emotion in unexplained details, like “the way your clothes travel up your skin.” He pulls off a similar feat at the opening of “Fast Peter” when he sings “So Peter loves a girl the way that only Peter does.” In those moments, it’s what Krug doesn’t say that makes it work. In the same way the layers and textures here just progress naturally, seeming coming out of nowhere with no explanation, no verse to bridge to chorus to set us up, Krug’s words work best when they create mystery.
Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped is about as ambitious as 35 minutes of music can get, and Krug gets an awful lot out of one instrument here. Leaving his band behind, he’s achieved some new breed of singer-songwriter record this time out, and has created his most infectious and energized set of songs since Sunset Rubdown’s Random Spirit Lover. Sure, we might miss Wolf Parade, but if leaving it behind keeps this kind of fire under Krug, we can do without that band for a long while.