Swan Lake is something of a Canadian indie-rock supergroup, combining the talents of Destroyer’s Dan Bejar, Frog Eyes’ Carey Mercer, and Spencer Krug of Sunset Rubdown and Wolf Parade. The idea of these three collaborating makes tons of sense, but somehow the resulting album, Beast Moans, feels like the product of an awkward high school jam session. This year especially, hopes for this record are regrettably high: Bejar just put out the best album of his career with Destroyer’s Rubies, and Spencer Krug cemented his indie darling status by dropping the excellent Sunset Rubdown full-length. Mercer is a little less high-profile, but he at least has a solid working history with Bejar: Frog Eyes souped up Destroyer’s limp Your Blues by reconstructing it with loud, crazy guitars on last year’s Notorious Lightning and Other Works EP.
The problem with Bejar, Krug, and Mercer collaborating — aside from the fact that none of them plays real drums, which slows everything down — is that they’re just too similar for their own good. Each singer’s main group is steeped in dark, folk-inflected, sloppy bedroom rock, and though all three stray from that formula at times, it still makes up the bulk of their respective early outputs. Unfortunately, it just seems like the three can’t sit down and write a song together.
The sounds on Beast Moans are massive and spacey, sticking closely to the records Sunset Rubdown and Frog Eyes put out earlier this year. But each track is essentially formless, and the vocals are so often drowned out by the cluttered production, it feels like singing was just an afterthought to a grand production experiment. What’s left is a really cool-sounding mess of what I can only guess are leftover Bejar, Krug, and Mercer song snippets pasted together, layered with a great deal of reverb, and given creepy song titles like ‘The Pollenated Girls.’ These three know how to write and record incredible songs, they just do it better on their own records.