The key moment of Sunset Rudown's excellent new album, Dragonslayer, comes at the beginning of "Paper Lace." Jordan Robson-Cramer's drumsticks click the count-off, and the bass flubs the opening phrase. A brief pause, the drumsticks click again, and the song begins proper.
It's a moment of spontaneity that could easily have been edited out, but it's an indicator of the live approach Sunset Rubdown took with the new material. "This time we toured the songs for three weeks," says multi-instrumentalist Camilla Wynne Ingr. "We got to Chicago and were in the studio for a week there, and we tried to record everything live off the floor with everyone playing everything."
Dragonslayer is also bassist Mark Nicol's first album with the band, a newly minted five-piece that fires on every cylinder. As the band's singer and songwriter Spencer Krug explains, "We had a good time recording [2007's] Random Spirit Lover—we had a long time in the studio, and it was fun, so it wasn't like, 'We must make the opposite record!' Because we got a bass player, our live show kind of tightened up and got heavier. The impulse was just to try to capture the sort of sudden sound that we realized we had, which is the sound of a band. I mean, that should be what all bands do, all the time, but it just so rarely happens that way anymore."
Krug is no stranger to band dynamics, carving out his time with Sunset Rubdown between a boggling array of other projects, including as a charter member of indie stars Wolf Parade, and as one of a trio of off-kilter Canadian songwriters in supergroup Swan Lake.
"I don't have a regimen that I need to follow, or, I don't have different piles that I put things in," he says. "It's a lot more natural than that. Something that comes pretty naturally to me is the impulse to sit around on a piano or a guitar and make stuff up, so I kind of have a fairly constant flow of stuff that slowly comes out. So then, for example, if, when Wolf Parade starts jamming again in the fall—we're perhaps thinking about a new record—then whenever I'm just writing music for fun, I'll obviously be thinking about Wolf Parade."
For Dragonslayer, Sunset Rubdown received a sheaf of Krug's best material, and some of his most accessible since Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary. The album begins with the gorgeous "Silver Moons," a piano-driven ballad that swoons like a track from Aladdin Sane, moving from martial beats to a guitar-shrieking coda. "Apollo and the Buffalo and Anna Anna Anna Oh!" is a jerky pop confection, and the album-closing "Dragon's Lair" is a sweeping 10-minute epic that packs a powerful emotional punch, transcending its fantasy-movie title.
"These mythical and mystical images—they're metaphors, you know," says Krug. "I'm not singing about a dragon, or I'm not singing about Apollo, or whatever. It's a bit frustrating that they seem to overshadow any other aspect of the lyrics. They don't actually come up that much; there's a whole bunch of other shit that I'm singing about also. It's representing the real world, to me, and also, a lot of it is just pulled from my day-to-day life, and not just my crazy imagination."