Of Spencer Krug’s projects, Sunset Rubdown occupies a middle-ground between the more straightforward – and more boring – Wolf Parade and the more experimental Swan Lake. And like all middle-grounds between the two poles of “accessible” and “experimental” (as if the two truly precluded each other), Sunset Rubdown often creates music more adept than either side of the hypostasized dichotomy. This isn’t supposed to place Krug’s projects into a hierarchy; we’ll let others play that game. What can be said though is that as a compromise between the antipodean extremes, Dragonslayer allows the weird to be strange and, at the same time, unforeign. That is, without neutering the weird, Krug makes it something there for us; if not overtly understandable, something that can be acquired.
It’s difficult to really use the term “experimental” anyway. Like “postmodern,” it has all but lost any kind of unitary meaning. As a modifier though, it sometimes carries with it an insecurity, like “oh, sure, experimental for indie rock.” When we act this way, bands like Sunset Rubdown sometimes get lost in the shuffle (though Krug’s presence may preclude that happening in this case). This is because they are not immediately catchy, nor super-outre, and therefore neither outright popular nor critically interesting. However, it is this middle-ground that does the work neither pole can do on its own.
While genres are incredibly varied, we can make a few general assumptions for the sake of the above simplified sketch (as long as we keep in mind that this is simplified). Stereotyped pop and experimental music have their strengths, the former being perhaps emotionally fulfilling and fun, the latter perhaps conceptually complicated or technically difficult. These are broad strokes, and in most cases both ends empty out into average stuff. It’s just that the pedigree of the latter lends its mediocrity an air of aloofness. That middle ground, though, when done right is a daywalker: all of the strengths, none of the weaknesses.
On Dragonslayer, perhaps more so than any of their previous albums, Sunset Rubdown is able to create memorable, multi-part songs that stay engaging throughout and that don’t meander aimlessly. There isn’t a lot of non-masturbatory prog like this out there (at least that isn’t outright terrible, e.g. The Decemberists) and what Dragonslayer helps to do is to subtly shift the musical discourse into weirder territory. It’s often these border skirmishes that come off as the most worthwhile.