It’s easy to lose track of the fact that art still exists. Like real art. Not just the mass produced stuff that is imminently pleasurable to experience, requiring no reflection. And I’m not trashing today’s true pop art, either. I think that the uproar about Miley Cyrus over the past couple of months has been insane, and she’s legitimately creating excellent pop art. She’s just reflecting that uncomfortable, gender confused, sexual side of young adult culture that rubs those firmly seated in their understanding of what should and should not be the wrong way. But this isn’t what I want to talk about.
It’s rare and lucky when you can find an artist that grows and changes with you. It’s a strange experience, really, to have someone you’ve never met, and really probably never will meet, become an integral part of your life. And not just someone that plays a peripheral role. Someone who continually creates and releases art that matches your temporal and physical location perfectly, telling you that you’re not alone, that someone else out there actually understands the things you’re dealing with so well that they have created a magnificent piece of art that reflects and elucidates it for your perfectly. Spencer Krug has continually done this for me.
Now, I’m not going to deny being an obscurantist, but I will say outright that Spencer Krug deserves a place alongside Fiona Apple, Thom Yorke, Jack White, Beck, and whoever else you can name as the best songwriters and musicians of this era. He just doesn’t write easily digestible pop. He yelps when he sings and drags songs out beyond their proper pop song limits. He does this unapologetically. Somehow, beyond all rights, he knows that he can do this and continues to do it. I have no idea where this bravery and self confidence comes from, but he has it. This also seems to be why he unflinchingly moves his music to different places, incorporating and decorporating the least expected aspects whenever his projects become habitual. He mutates his habits and expectations so well that he named his first solo album “Organ Music, Not Vibraphone Like I’d Hoped.”
It’s easy to assume musicians like him are purposely oblique and hiding behind whatever smokescreen of effete culture they can throw up, but I’m convinced Krug doesn’t do this. His newest album, “Julia With Blue Jeans On,” proves this. Ignoring the title that I immediately found repellant, I gave it a listen. It is the kind of music that kept me awake because it would not leave my head. And not in the Raffi way, but in the way that my brain simply couldn’t let me ignore the importance of what I was being gifted. This is the nature of Krug’s music – you listen to it once or twice and your interest is piqued, and then after the tenth, twentieth listen, you realize you had never really heard it.
This most recent album is one that is unrelentingly simple. He did this on purpose – boiling down his complex musical past into just him and a piano. He sings about love, and Noah, and what it even means to be human, acknowledging every frailty that we all try to ignore. He makes it okay for me to acknowledge this frailty in myself. He mourns it, he deprecates it, and he celebrates it.
Today we’re all constantly confronted with the complexity of the outside world. Our uninterrupted connection to the ceaseless flow of information from all around the world tears us away from our present, causing us to think of and focus on all of the things going on beyond us. Simultaneously, we must react by turning inside, trying to figure out how we can possibly, individually confront our own responses to these overwhelming stimuli. Spencer Krug’s new album invites us to forget all of this, invites us to look at where and who we are in our present circumstances, and to take it seriously. It invites us to look at those around us and to take them seriously as well, without relegating them to the same realm of outside as the war in Syria and the neverending financial crisis. Take the moment, the hour, to listen to and think about what he’s trying to tell us. It’s worth every penny, because it isn’t just an hour of music. It’s a well bored into our contemporary culture, releasing the pieces of our experience and humanity that there doesn’t seem to be time to visit anymore.