Julia With Blue Jeans On

(Jagjaguwar; 2013)

By Brent Ables | 30 October 2013

[SCENE: A dreamland. A lone wolf paces near the ocean, nodding at a one-legged snake as he passes by. Spencer Krug enters, riding a leopard. Throwing back his long locks, he spots the wolf. He notices that he’s got a hand, so he’s got a bonespear. He hurls his spear at the wolf’s neck. The wolf lays down, then rises again as a ghost. Krug yelps at the moon. In return, the moon faces him. He dismounts, and gazes wistfully at the ocean. Presently he falls asleep. The leopard, who was only pretending to sleep, stands up and starts playing backgammon with the snake.]

SNAKE: Shame about the wolf, huh? 

LEOPARD: It had its time, like all us mortal animals. And the celestial ones: this noble hunter’s demise came just upon the tail end of Sunset. As the light went out, so did the creatures who found their way in that light.

SNAKE: Yeah. I think maybe those days are over, over now.

Now we’re here, in Krug’s dreamland, where he and his inner flower child do just what they want from record to record and answer to no one but their muses. Yet I see less and less of that kid in there, and he seems less big and dumb and scared with every passing year. I guess we should have seen that coming. When Krug told us on “Silver Moons” that he believes in growing old with grace, he wasn’t speaking in the abstract. When he told us on “Nightingale / December” that he was the steady-burning embers rather than the mighty flame, we should have taken him at his word that things would be cooling down. So now, pushing forty and sporting a Michael Bolton ‘do, Krug gives us an entire album of mellow love songs with nary a yelp or ghost to be found. It is dedicated to Julia, his Beatrice With Blue Jeans On. He sings, quite straightforwardly, about slow dancing and settling down. It’s likely that some people, even longtime fans, might find this new, domestic Krug a bit off-putting.

LEOPARD: And speaking of domestic, where are the wild beasts here? How should we interpret this legendary beast-tamer’s admission that “All the animals I rode in life are sleeping”? What of the shit-hawks and phoenixes and one-legged snakes of times past?

SNAKE: [Blinks]

LEOPARD: Hey, snakes can’t blink.

SNAKE: Anyway, it’s not like he’s forgotten about us. His commitment to his own symbology is as complete as is his disregard for the externalities of band and banner. Perhaps he realized that on Heartbreaking Bravery (2012) these symbols were beginning to stretch a little too thin. If you’re just “getting off on yesterday’s fire,” why not douse that shit and step into the moonlight for awhile? As with any great artist, what Krug doesn’t sing about is just as important as what he does include. Julia With Blue Jeans On finds him cutting away all the excess stone to reveal his perfect form within: “I held the chisel against my cheekbone / And I beheld the face of my true master.” What is left is every bit as vulnerable, awkward, and humane as ever.

LEOPARD: This is not just a domestic album but an album about domesticity. Yet Krug, in characteristic fashion, isn’t concerned with the surface of domesticity—white picket fences and dogs on firetrucks—but with the primordial sense of our need to shelter ourselves. This explains the central metaphor of “Everyone is Noah, Everyone is the Ark,” the cumbersomely titled but beautiful first single: “Everyone has to build themselves up when heaven’s cruel.” Except what is built here is built only with, or even from, other animals: “Everyone has to gather souls around them / To feel useful and loving and loved.” So Krug’s love songs here aren’t just love songs, they’re survival strategies.

SNAKE: And is this not further proof of Krug’s genius? He lends an entire album of ballads the gravity and pathos of the Old Testament. It’s really something. And the same goes for the music here. The piano lines are alternately warm and foreboding, minimal and epic, but they are dripping with genuine emotion in every measure. And they are always perfectly suited to Krug’s lyrics. Maybe the most wondrous instance of this comes in “Dreamy Summer,” where a line about “debating the existence of an all-seeing deity” is immediately followed by a series of arpeggios that sound like God looking down upon his creation and smiling.

[The snake pauses, as a movement of the clouds allows a single ray of light to shine down on Krug where he sleeps. He stirs and sits up, but doesn’t notice the backgammon game. His gaze is fixed on a slowly approaching shape on the ocean, as yet too indistinct to be made out.]

LEOPARD: [Piously.] This names the last of the presences on Julia. Spencer Krug, a modern pagan if ever there was one, has never rejected God—but neither has he been especially fond of him. God doesn’t always have the best plans, and “heaven’s cruel.” And so he is led, on this album’s title track, to the boldest proclamation of love that I’ve ever heard: “I’d say the only name worth singing is not God / It’s you, Julia.”

SNAKE: That sounds… …sounds nice… …doesn’t it?

LEOPARD: I can imagine nothing nicer.

[The animals finish their game in silence. As the vessel on the ocean comes into view, it is revealed to be an ark. Paired animals abound. At the ship’s front stands a radiantly beautiful woman in blue jeans. She beckons at Krug. He smiles at the heavens, as if in thanks, and swims out to the ark. A rope is tossed overboard by the ghost of a wolf; Krug grabs hold and climbs on board. He and Julia lock eyes in silent rapture, animals among the rest. The ark floats back out to sea, and into the distance. The moon sets. The dreamer awakes.]