Indie supergroup Swan Lake certainly has a promising lineup -- it has members from the New Pornographers, Wolf Parade, and Frog Eyes.
With that kind of lineup, it's hard not to expect some enjoyably strange indiepop with a unique sound. And Swan Lake -- for the most part -- delivers, with its weaves of lo-fi fuzz, acoustic guitar and wavery synth. It starts off a little weakly, but quickly gains steam and barrels on like the Decemberists on really good acid.
It opens with the languid fuzz-pop and piercing synth of "Widow's Walk," followed by the dark "Nubile Days," a chaotic little mass of folk-dancey rhythm and hard-rock instruments. These two songs are pretty enjoyable, but they somehow feel like they lack a musical vision, and just got thrown together.
That changes with "City Calls," a dizzying swirl of shimmering synth and wobbly vocals. It sounds like the song was recorded during an earthquake, and it takes a few listens to hear the intricate melodies woven through it. From there, Swan Lake expands its sound further -- ominous fuzz-rock, eerie synthpop with shimmering voices, mellow guitars, and wonderful stretches of shining Hammond.
"Beast Moans" is one of those wonderfully strange albums that occasionally are made, and usually don't get as much attention as they deserve. Maybe this will be one of the exceptions, given the solid lineup... just so long as you don't expect to hear Destroyer, Wolf Parade or the New Pornographers. This is entirely different, like the Decemberists jamming with the Olivia Tremor Control.
The music itself is a glorious mess of the lo-fi and experimental, dabbling in sing-alongs and poetry recitals. There are rough riffs, droning melodies, a muffled tambourine, and enormous blankets of Hammond organ that shimmer like a waterfall. The instruments all flow together into a hazy melodic wash that gets more enjoyable as you listen to it.
Just don't expect terribly coherent songs, sung in Dan Bejar's off-key voice and Krug's more whispery one. There is a slight flaw, in that the poetic lyrics seem distant from the music itself. But the lyrics are beautifully befuddling, with peculiar themes ("One thousand people people/ Did what they could/ They found a steeple/ Tore up the wood") ranging from kindly earls to small towns flooding.
If Colin Meoy ever got eaten by a Hammond organ, the result might be something like "Beast Moans." While Swan Lake's debut album isn't the kind that you immediately embrace, its strengths come out as times goes on.