Sometimes the best thing a pop songwriter can do—especially one as baroque and expansive as Spencer Krug—is to restrict himself. It might not be fair or entirely accurate to call Siinai a restriction; the Finnish band, which collaborates with Krug on his latest Moonface album, With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery, weaves an instrumental, Krautrock-inspired thrum that’s nothing short of gorgeous. But Siinai also offers Krug a relatively sparse palette, something he hasn’t had to deal with on previous releases (including those with his other sort-of-solo project, Sunset Rubdown, not to mention his best-known band, Wolf Parade). That’s made him go more deep than broad on Heartbreaking Bravery.
In Krug’s case, deep is good. Contributing keyboards and vocals—and, of course, lyrics—to the album, Krug invests Heartbreaking Bravery with as many variations on the title’s definition, from somber to sonic to sardonic, that he can imagine. He can imagine quite a bit: The title track cracks open a hornet’s nest of romantic paranoia and recrimination, a quivering, ominous drone-poem that could be a belated reply to Kate Bush’s “Hounds Of Love”: “Now I want your sex / but I am not the fox / with bloodstained lips / standing over the kill.” Siinai’s ponderous yet sinuous basslines and apocalyptic beats add gravity to Krug’s atmosphere. The pace, if not the mood, picks up on “I’m Not The Phoenix Yet”—one of the few tracks that shake off the hypnotic heaviness in favor of a fleeter, fierier anxiety.
That said, Heartbreaking Bravery is best when it smolders. “Headed For The Door” is the album’s peak, but it’s also its delicious abyss. “You gotta listen for the cautionary roar,” Krug croons over a slow-motion earthquake of a beat before slinking into an epistolary, spoken-word coda: “Dear Sarah, I heard that you've turned into a goth / and I think that's great / if that's what makes you happy,” he frigidly intones amid swirls of blackened synth, sounding like someone who’s been there himself. Juggling minimalism and majesty, Krug elegantly conducts every one of Siinai’s fluttering, kosmische pulses into the numb room behind his sternum. No wonder his heart is breaking.