an Bejar, Spencer Krug, and Carey Mercer come in lovable, convenient sizes. They’ve weathered their roles as second fiddles and third bananas; they need few introductions. Each has a tidy, interesting back catalog, and no one has to play the venues in the bad part of town anymore. Alt-weeklies keep you on top of the new stuff. Girls buy tickets to their shows, etc. People are excited about their collaboration, Swan Lake, presumably because some unknown transitive property of indie rock mandates that Bejar + Krug + Mercer > Bejar, Krug, Mercer. Get geeked for the crescendos, the swirling 18-verse missives, the “I’ll believe in anything!”s, “Egos will be subverted!”s, and “True collaboration will be realized!”s. The ceiling for Swan Lake may be exactly that high, but consider, too, that their basement is the Canadian Temple of the Dog.
Though their day jobs are reasonably diverse, Bejar, Krug, and Mercer mix into a monstrous, convoluted mess here—Bejar’s flair for the verbose and dramatic, Krug’s Vaseline keyboard smear, and Mercer’s outrageous circus dynamism, zero to 60 in two verses or less. Their voices, especially in unison, sound a bit like Nick Cave routed through an overdriven Leslie amplifier; their warbles trip over each other, go belly up on a sea of shoelaces and cough drops. And the songs? Nobody’s actively saving bullets here, but things do seem, eh, reserved. We’re due for new Wolf Parade and Frog Eyes albums in 2007, ya know, and the paint’s barely dry on Rubies….
All three of these gents have a strange way of sounding self-serious and morose when they’re trying to be light-hearted, and as a result, Beast Moans comes off humorless and weighty. Bejar’s wry, winking laugh—“Shit! Where do you come from!?” he asks—is lost, mostly because Krug and Spencer think huge, scary carnival organs are a good time. Krug, whether with Sunset Rubdown or Wolf Parade, can barely make room for himself in his own compositions; with Mercer noodling angrily on guitar and Bejar’s syllabic whine (“la da da da da da da,” etc.) popping up in odd places, Krug sounds aimless and suffocated.
Little of Beast Moans ever becomes legible. “All Fires” taps Krug’s sad, brilliant lyric about a drowning town—“1000 people did what they could / They found a steeple and tore up the wood / 500 pieces mean 500 float / 1000 people mean 500 don’t”—and sticks, even as his reliance on familial imagery starts to seem less a quirk and more a crutch. “The Freedom” remains stark and uncluttered enough for Bejar to stretch his legs and talk about himself a bit. Krug’s “Are You Swimming in Her Pools?” is less compelling but has the discernible contours of a lullaby before exploding into something louder and grander.
The rest of Beast Moans provides fewer footholds, the only real boon being song titles that sound like they’re culled from the hellacious 38th season of “The Simpsons”: “The Pollenated Girls,” “A Venue Called Rubella,” “The Partisan But He’s Got to Know.” The trio routinely takes simple structures and arrangements and obscures them with their unholy chorus—“City Calls” should be a simple, piano-led folk tale, but it’s hazy and disheveled until Bejar cuts through the mix singing about “broken collarbones.” Then, he disappears again.
Ultimately, that’s the problem: No one can really decide where to take these songs, so everyone takes them everywhere. And when someone stumbles back onto the path, the others can’t follow; the dirt’s all soft, no one can make their tracks, everyone ends up muddy. It turns out that Bejar’s not much of a backup singer, Krug probably doesn’t need the help, and Mercer, well, fuck…egos have been subverted! Selfless collaboration has been achieved! At least everyone always enjoyed “Hunger Strike,” right?