Sunset Rubdown
Dragonslayer

by Jim Di Gioia

June 23, 2019

Sunset Rubdown delivered their third act as a full band with a sense of finality and closure that remains immensely satisfying.

Few contemporary songwriters and performers seem as unbothered about being understood as Spencer Krug does. It’s who he’s always been. You don’t write, record, and release as a single disc a conceptual jazz-rock record and one of marimba-based songs sung from a Minotaur’s point of view if you care about what the public thinks.  Whether the work is musically complex or emotionally simple, Spencer Krug is consistently authentic. His music always feels like a sincere expression of his creative soul. Each phase of his career has played out like a thesis that opens with a wild hypothesis, but Krug ends up making you a believer by the end. Moonface is the most recent example (Krug has decided to retire that moniker and begin releasing music under his own name), but before that is the oft-overlooked and criminally underrated band, Sunset Rubdown.

The last time anyone heard from Sunset Rubdown was 2009’s Dragonslayer, a live-off-the-floor record featuring Krug, multi-instrumentalist Jordan Robson-Cramer, guitarist/bassist Michael Doerksen, keyboardist Camilla Wynne Ingr, and drummer/percussionist Mark Nicol. In comparison to its studio-built predecessor, Random Spirit Lover, Dragonslayer sounded truthful, raw, almost effortless in its execution. In reality, it was no happy accident. Musicianship this synergistic isn’t caught on tape by happenstance. As Jagjaguwar (the band’s label) described it at the time, Dragonslayer is the result of a “conscious decision” to sound like “that one friend of yours who looks unassuming and normal, but once you get to know him it’s obvious he’s basically crazy.”

To appreciate where Sunset Rubdown eventually ends up, you need a cursory understanding of where it starts. Based in Montreal, all its members arrived there from other parts of the country (Krug, Doerksen, and Robson-Cramer from BC; Wynne Ingr from Alberta; Nicol from Ontario). Though it started with Spencer Krug releasing a record on his own, to classify it as either a solo or side project is to do Sunset Rubdown a disservice. From 2006’s sophomore record Shut Up I’m Dreaming on, Wynn Ingr, Doerksen, and Robson-Cramer were fully on-board. By the time Random Spirit Lover came along, Sunset Rubdown was up three full-lengths to Wolf Parade’s one.

Whether or not Sunset Rubdown went into Dragonslayer with a conscious decision that this would be their final record is unclear. Regardless, they delivered their third act as a full band with a sense of finality and closure that remains immensely satisfying. There’s an underlying sense that Sunset Rubdown is coming down hard after an epic party is over. Besides being more muted and subdued, melody makes its return to resplendent opener “Silver Moons” and songs like “You Go on Ahead (Trumpet Trumpet II)”. “Paper Lace”, first featured earlier in 2009 on Swan Lake’s Enemy Mine, resurfaces as a meta cover song, a fully formed pearl that marks the point mid-album when Dragonslayer begins to shake off its sleepiness and roar to life towards the epic, ten-plus-minute closer “Dragon’s Lair”.

At just eight songs long, Dragonslayer doesn’t appear to be much on paper, but Sunset Rubdown packs each composition with multiple movements and suites. No song is a one-trick pony. Repeated listens reward the attentive audience with brilliant, subtle lyrical callbacks to previous songs and records (a Krug hallmark) and polyrhythmic musical pleasures that are far from easy to hear but more than easy to love. With the confetti settled, the sun coming up over its horizon, and the pronouncement that “It is time for a bigger kind of kill,” Dragonslayer fulfills Sunset Rubdown’s promise to deliver listeners a wildly crazy, fantastically idiosyncratic, lifelong friend.

Jim Di Gioia

CoFounder at DOMINIONATED
Jim founded the music blog Quick Before It Melts in 2006 and was its principal writer until 2016, when its decade-long run ended 10 years to the day it started. DOMINIONATED is its spiritual successor. Jim currently serves as a Polaris Music Prize jurist and Prism Prize jurist.
Jim Di Gioia