Sunset Rubdown

Snake's Got a Leg

(Global Symphonic; 2005)

By Peter Hepburn | 26 January 2008

As I understand it, Wolf Parade fans can be divided roughly into two groups: those who are perfectly happy with Apologies to the Queen Mary in all its Isaac Brock-produced crispness and glory, and those who prefer the early versions that were released on the band’s first two EPs.

I fall into the former category. While a few of Wolf Parade’s early tracks certainly do capture a certain magic or superior arrangement (see: “Dear Sons and Daughters of Hungry Ghosts” and "Dinner Bells"), several of them end up feeling buried in tape hiss, muddled production, or real poor musical choices (yeah, “Modern World” started off life in an uglier form). Aside from showing the progression of the songs, they never really manage to make the songs jump out of the speakers the way the final version so effectively have. Tape hiss does not equal authenticity; recording for Sub Pop is not selling out.

Of course, for the fans of the more lo-fi feel of the EPs there’s still Sunset Rubdown, the project (and reportedly now full band) of Wolf Parade singer Spencer Krug. Snake’s Got a Leg, the band’s debut, is unabashedly lo-fi, tape crackles and all. Arrangements are never overly complex, the lyrics never reach the heights of Apologies, and yet somehow this is still an oddly compelling listen at times.

But a Krug project must inevitably lead to a discussion of the second Wolf Parade dichotomy: the Krug ("Grounds for Divorce") fans vs. the Dan Boeckner ("This Heart’s on Fire") fans. Both have their strong points, but Krug’s voice is certainly more of an acquired taste, and that’s all you’re getting with Snake’s Got a Leg. As a Krug fan, I couldn’t be more pleased, but once you throw in the tinny keyboards and watery production you’re left with something that feels like a Frog Eyes album on (more) drugs. I am told most people would find this daunting, to say the least.

When you break it down, though, the rock sensibility is still very much there in the music, just a bit less accessible. “The Dust that You Kick Up is Too Fine” comes parading in on a flashy piano line, but there’s little substance. Krug kills it on the title track, knowing precisely when to let the simple piano and percussion fall away for the best effect. He has an incredible ear for the sort of simple melodic repetition that can really drive home even a lame lyric; the clearest comparison is with the straightforward harp plucking of Joanna Newsom. “Hey you Handsome Vulture” and “I Know the Weight of Your Throat” succeed on equal terms. The two parts of “Hope You Don’t Stoop to Dirty Words” are interesting enough (the first having a very Dismemberment Plan feel at points), but never really grab me.

The track here sure to gain the widest notice is the squelching, ecstatic take on “I’ll Believe in Anything.” The keyboard line expands out in ways that it didn’t seem capable of on Apologies, and there’s a certain beautiful honesty to Krug’s solo take on the track (especially the amped up final section). Still, it doesn’t manage to capture the majesty of the middle section of the Wolf Parade version and, clocking in at almost five-minutes, it does drag a bit.

The instrumentals here tend to be pretty discordant. Whereas with many of the songs it feels like the lyrics or delivery carry the music, with the instrumentals it’s hard not to wish for either a full band or a production style that would leave the keyboards sounding a little less grating. While it’s hard to complain of more output from Krug, I’ll stick with something a bit cleaner and more put together for now.