Swan Lake

Beast Moans

(Jagjaguwar; 2006)

By Chet Betz | 8 November 2007

Beast Moans sounds like incest. Two semi-icons of the bleeding edge indie rock scene, Spencer Krug and Dan Bejar, hop into bed with their sometime mentor/always compatriot, Carey Mercer; the act seems not only too obvious, but too wrong and too dangerously perverted in its allowance of music with the same genes to intermingle. Canadian, eccentric, and talented to the utmost, here are three minds who force well-endowed lyricism into the confines of musical meters that gape at the John Holmes they’re expected to take. Before, the ravaging escapades of these three had been relegated to Krug and his Wolf Parade/Sunset Rubdown droogs, or Bejar and his Destroyer droogs, or Mercer and his Frog Eyes droogs; and, yes, Krug has been a Frog Eyes droog, and Frog Eyes has been a Destroyer droog, but in Swan Lake the three brothers proclaim equality and embrace. Within the whirlpool of solidarity drowns Krug, a neo-romantic whose emotions often lay naked and shivering, nary a cliché trapping for cover; drowns Bejar who paints an endless self-portrait, its subject Bejar at a canvas painting Bejar at a canvas painting Bejar at a canvas, ad infinitum; drowns mad Carey Mercer who elaborates his prose off into absurdity, opium fizzing in its veins. The three conjoin by a slight muffling of themselves and an unconditional acceptance of each other — each other and fucking lots of reverb.

The trinity takes frenzied turns scribing and calling out for parts, and when everybody makes mistakes on everybody’s songs, they’ll load on the aural Jello until both Galaxie 500 and Cosby manage a blush. The first two singles, “All Fires” and “The Freedom,” bear the most fingerprints of their principal makers, and they seem the most solid, most straightjacketed songs next to the flitting, cackling specters of what surrounds. Still, Krug borrows a line from himself, pulling a Destroyer on “Fires,” and Bejar’s “Freedom” gets treated to the sort of segmented arrangement a Sunset Rubdown song might sport. Krug impresses himself upon the listener elsewhere (the uber-meta “Are You Swimming in Her Pools” makes a laugh out of its own fantastically penned introspection) and Bejar has to be loving the title “A Venue Called Rubella,” of course, but while those two feel out their place in this new spumoni world that ripples and melts around them, Mercer adjusts by repressing his manic blither. In so doing he delivers the album’s most persistent, gnawing, cancerous un-jams, and it’s these gut-wreckers that stand as the best example of the recombinant dissolution that Beast Moans calls its substance.

Mercer’s elephantine stuff tries to step carefully. He first sums up the setting: “City Calls” is a wail with synthesizer that strobes like low shutter streetlights and a guitar coursing down the gutter. “Petersburg, Liberty Theater, 1914” sets its “palest wrongs” to song, organs and guitar well met over a thrumming beat. Closer “Shooting Rockets” dredges up an underworld of slow-motion firecrackers and humming shadows; it’s here that Bejar and Krug find the most attunement with Mercer’s zenithal self-sublimation. And the two movements of “The Pollenated Girls,” existence and expiration, still play out like The Fountain tagline: “Death is the road to awe.” Speaking of which, New York Magazine’s David Edelstein disparaged Mansell’s Fountain soundtrack for being a mix of “Minimalism, art rock, and New Age music,” something that “you’d hear if your massage therapist wanted to induce a stroke.” He unwittingly makes the score sound like it could be great, which it is, and Swan Lake’s debut is the same kind of great, just in a more gruff and bruised and askew and, well, completely different kind of way. Check to “great,” though. And you thought this review was a pan, didn’t you?

Yes, Beast Moans works far better than anyone should have expected. While close lyrical examination would leave a dramaturg hard-pressed to tell you what’s what, transience is a thematic obsession shared by these writerly songwriters, and here the hybrid sound is transience sonically defined. Bejar’s reflexivity becomes the production’s echoing hall of mirrors; Krug’s poignant wholeness is the music’s simple and straight melodic lines; and Mercer’s neurotic ennui fidgets with the whole construction, placing notes at the edge of the time’s signature until they stumble off the cusp, forcing things to slip into each other and dissolve and mesh, letting the sludge burble and spit up gases that incandesce in the establishing atmosphere. If hyper-literate, blunt-toned bands like Frog Eyes and Sunset Rubdown are the New Indie Rock, then Swan Lake have made the New Indie Rock’s first ambient album, a verbose destruction of verbosity and a willful folding of traditional instrumentation in on itself, over and over and over, until the chalky smudge of it is rendered complete and immaculate, a million pastel hues in one indefinite color. The band and album names make perfect sense. This is transmogrification cut to tape, and you can hear the changelings crying, for pain and for joy.