Don't dismiss Sunset Rubdown as a side project to Wolf Parade and Frog Eyes. Lead singer Spencer Krug's other two bands are better-known among the indie-rock cognoscenti, but if this album's any indication, Krug thinks it should be the other way around. While Shut Up has a basement-recording ambience to it, the arrangements are complex yet accessible and complement his, well, complex yet accessible lyrics. Side projects usually aren't so cohesive in theme--recurring lyrical references to snakes, water, death and other biblical matter point to some spiritual struggle, especially in the strongest track, "The Men Are Called Horsemen There."
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On "Horsemen," synths and carnival organ waltz and churn under distorted and reverbed guitars before the whole mess builds to a climax and then staggers on for another minute to the 7:00 mark. Throughout the album, screaming synths, mournful or triumphant guitars and herky-jerky beats vie with Krug's singing (which is at times annoyingly emotional and Bowie-esque but usually suits the music) for attention. "Swimming" opens with dissonant piano notes out of some horror movie, jolts into a minor-key organ line in a weird but infectious beat, then finally halts for a moment just before showing off Sunset's best trick, used repeatedly on Dreaming to good effect: a rapturous cacophony. It's the kind of sonic motif that would get old, if it weren't so appropriate for this triumph of an album.