Swan Lake is the latest product of the incestuous Canadian music scene. There’s Dan Bejar, of New Pornographers and Destroyer, Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown, and Carey Mercer of Frog Eyes. With this line-up, the expectations for the album are going to be superfluously high.
And on paper, this combination certainly seems like it would be a massive success. But paper doesn’t always translate to real life. While it delivers most of the time, Beast Moans is inconsistent. The biggest problem is a general lack of cohesion on the album as a whole; it sounds like Bejar, Krug and Mercer are three separate entities. It is abundantly apparent that they wrote these songs separately. It lacks the collaboration that you hear on other albums by bands like Gnarls Barkley, where it sounds like Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo were working with each other.
One could easily be fooled into believing “The Partisan but He’s Got to Know” is a Frog Eyes song. Stand-out track, “All Fires” (mp3), might as well be a Sunset Rubdown song (or a Wolf Parade b-side). And “A Venue Called Rubella” bears more than a strong resemblance to Destroyer. The lack of a cohesive sound on Beast Moans is surprising since Bejar, Krug and Mercer all fit into the same category of musicians influenced by the Talking Heads: yelping vocals, jerky riffs and discordant percussion. The problem is that they too rarely bother to adapt their individual sound to their new band members.
They do take some chances, and those forays into a new sound produce the best moments on the album where Krug gets a perfect melody, and Mercer and Bejar play off that, and they sound like Swan Lake, not like Destroyer, Frog Eye, Wolf Parade or Sunset Rubdown. If Swan Lake decides to continue together, they might have the potential to be as good as their other bands. Even the low points (“A Venue Called Rubella” and “The Partisan but He’s got to Know”) are still decent enough songs with moments of promise.
Swan Lake comes close to crafting a brilliant album, but the lack of true collaboration drags Beast Moans down and prevents it from being as good as any of their other projects.