“And this more human love (which will fulfill itself with infinite consideration and gentleness, and kindness and clarity in binding and releasing) will resemble what we are now preparing painfully and with great struggle: the love that consists in this: that two solitudes protect and border and greet each other.”
Flip through the lyrics sheet for Moonface’s new album, and you’ll find this Rilke quote prefacing the fourth song, “Quickfire, I Tried.” The quotation’s placement is curious — as is much else about the record — but its purpose is unmistakable. Heartbreaking Bravery is focused on a single subject: love — love as pain, as solitude, as cosmic struggle. This focus proves exhausting at times — the album’s midsection sags with portentous ranting and unhurried oversharing — but let’s be real. All the best Spencer Krug albums are exhausting; they wear you down, knock the wind out of you. Krug has always been a musician brutally committed to the moods that take him, the only significant difference here being the unexpected clarity of his lyrics.
There are lines that are foregrounded during quiet moments in the mix, which at first embarrass with their candor. “You liked it better when I was on top,” Krug sings on “Yesterday’s Fire.” Only later does it become evident that Krug, while writing in crude entendres, is in literal terms describing himself as a slab of butchered meat. All of this is florid, and even with repeated exposure, that lyric stands out awkwardly. But at the same time, you begin to accept that this is also something of a return to form, a callback to the predator/prey metaphors from “Us Ones in Between;” this is Krug finding new ways to say those things he’d forgotten how to say.
The previous two Moonface records were, to varying degrees, half-hearted, cryptic, and jammy, whereas Heartbreaking Bravery is nothing if not lucid and bulging with heart. “Yesterday’s Fire” is a prime example of this emotionality, opening with a glam Heroes chug before going full Meatloaf one and a half minutes in. There’s a sophistication to the way it plays big and dumb. Close your eyes and you can probably imagine this playing on some other Earth’s VH1 80s programming block, Spencer Krug, black suit, white shirt, sunglasses, the Robert Palmer girls beating along behind him.
The slick professionalism of Krug’s collaboration with Siinai, a Finnish band on absolutely nobody’s radar, does little to dispel this feeling of anonymous backing support. This is unmistakably Krug’s project, but for once, he not only composes, but also conducts. Even “Headed for the Door,” the longest song on Heartbreaking Bravery, fills its seven and a half minutes with a surplus of ideas, building in intensity, New Romantic percussion beating the song forward, until it breaks into a spoken-word climax that is as goofy as it is spectacular.
Unlike last year’s Organ Music and Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped, Heartbreaking Bravery doesn’t sound like a frenzied, hop-headed ramble. These songs are tightly drawn, well-edited. The over-reliance on limited-range instruments, which marred Moonface’s first two records, is utterly abandoned here. These songs are varied yet sequenced perfectly. For a man so obsessed with shit, Krug hasn’t seemed to give any lately. But that’s no longer true.
Heartbreaking Bravery is a return to where Moonface began, on the final Sunset Rubdown EP, Introducing Moonface. The two songs hinted at a future distillation of previous efforts, a reduction and revision of all that came before. “Insane Love is Awakening,” in particular, was a thrilling, sparse rib-fest rocker. It felt connected to past and present in ways Krug’s older material never was. The urge to anarchy and cacophony has subsided, and what remained was a slight, nearly perfect expression of joy and love and total righteousness. Messy as the emotions get here, they come through without subterfuge. Krug is confronting love with open arms, finally ready and eager to move forward. Despite the gratuitous, overripe details of these songs — potent, lurid confessions; broken plates and bloody lips — Heartbreaking Bravery is a peaceful, centered work. This is possibly the least difficult record Krug has put his name to, a record erstwhile collaborator and fellow countryman Carey Mercer could never make. By no small feat does it rival the first two Wolf Parade albums in terms of adherence to pop conventions. And at this point in time, after several trying, disappointing years, you really shouldn’t take that as anything but a compliment.