The many incarnations of Spencer Krug have eventually narrowed themselves down to just one. Krug is a prolific, multi-talented man with a noticeably high quota of music released, so it probably won’t last. But the most surprising thing here is to find Moonface as the chosen entity to carry on as an output for his work. Of the many brilliant acts Krug has been involved in – Wolf Parade, Sunset Rubdown, Frog Eyes, to name but a few - you felt Moonface was the one that didn't quite have the legs or quality deserving of his attention and warranting another release. An EP aside, the only previous release under the Moonface moniker was 2011’s full-length Organ Music Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped. It wasn't light listening - a little self-indulgent. The shortest song ran at just under seven minutes. But Krug doesn't make things easy for his listeners. Why should he? Music is all too easy to consume these days. Some people do still want to be challenged. The further Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown progressed, the more accessible they both became, so maybe he's keeping Moonface for himself and his more unconventional side, at the same time challenging our own preconceptions of what constitutes a pop song in our current era.
But then you hear something like 'Teary Eyes and Bloody Lips', the first taste of Heartbreaking Bravery Krug offered us, and you think to yourself this is exactly what a pop/indie/rock (whatever) song should be sounding like in 2012. Its exuberance and giddy rush takes you a little by surprise at first. A brooding opening riff gives way to cascading synths, a hook of "teary eyes and bloody lips make you look like Stevie Nicks," and a piano-assisted, skyward reaching middle-eight. It clocks in a 2:47, for Christ's sake. What has happened to our boy? Who cares, really, when it sounds as good as this. It's pretty much the last thing you'd expect to hear on the second Moonface album, but Heartbreaking Bravery is a different prospect to Organ Music – a wider-reaching record, with some easier entry points, and the chance for Krug to showcase his pop leanings without compromising his eclectic and complex ambitious side. Though make no mistake, that latter side of his character still reigns supreme here.
Krug decamped to Finland to record the album with Helsinki outfit Siinai – one time tour mates of Wolf Parade. The location seems to fit; 'Teary Eyes' aside, Heartbreaking Bravery is for the most part a slow-burning, at times quite sparse, yet beautiful album. The considered style provided by Siinai, though Krug is never far from making an appearance and putting his stamp on things with a flourish here or a bit of extravagance there, albeit more understated and restrained than we're used to from him.
The moments of catharsis that so many of the songs on Heartbreaking Bravery threaten to provide never end up materialising. And that's okay. You want build and release – go and listen to Animal Collective, they're perfect at such things. Instead, the tension is dissolved elsewhere. The lyrics provide a great out point. See album centrepiece 'Faraway Lightning', a lesson in writing a song where not a whole lot happens without making it any less fascinating. Steady drums and occasional stabs of synth build up the aforementioned tension to a suffocating point as Krug sings "You told me I was not the only one/ But you should trust me love/ I am the only one." Lyrically, things continue in such a vein. An often sorrowful, resigned feel permeates the album. 'Shitty City' is a dark, scuzzy, electro-pop beast, by way of some Springsteen-evoking lyrics – the yearning to bust out of the hell-hole you call home. It’s beautiful, raw, and sonically speaking blows anything else being released now right out of the water. '10,000 Scorpions' is just two minutes eleven seconds of noise – beautiful noise, but noise nonetheless; 'Headed For The Door' is a death march of a song, nothing more than Krug's dramatic, wonderful vocals, and a militant drum-beat interrupted every so often by a gigantic organ; and 'Lay Your Cheek On Down' sees the album build to a ridiculously overblown, yet brilliant climax, as huge slabs of synth rain down and guitars and piano all dissolve into one, strangely echoing the coda to 'Purple Rain'.
So is it easy going? No. But neither was Organ Music, and it runs circles around that record. Last year, Krug was quoted as saying "Moonface will probably never sound like Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown." Perhaps not, but Heartbreaking Bravery represents the perfect bridge between his many conduits - another reminder of how restless, brilliantly creative, and progressive an artist Spencer Krug is.