Some things sound better on paper than they do coming out of a stereo. Such is the case for Swan Lake and their debut album, Beast Moans. Combining three of Canada's most distinctive songwriters--Dan Bejar (of Destroyer and the New Pornographers), Spencer Krug (of Wolf Parade and Sunset Rubdown) and Carey Mercer (of Frog Eyes)--Beast Moans could have contended for album of the year. Unfortunately, the album isn't the sum of its parts, though it isn't a complete disaster either.
What's most immidiately striking about Beast Moans is how bizarre it is. Somehow it manages to sound like the three members are simultaneously on the same page, but are playing completely different songs--one of which is always the theme to the Contra Nintendo games. It's a bewildering experience, but after a few listens, most of the songs hold up decently, even though it often seems like every part was written independent of the others.
The vocals of the album really shine through. This isn't surprising as each member of Swan Lake is known for possessing a highly engaging, albeit eccentric, set of pipes. Though most songs on Beast Moans feature one member assuming lead duties, the band doesn't shy away from vocal collaboration, with sublime results.
The production falters, however. The album was hastily recorded and self-produced. The effect of this rushed schedule is evident. Many songs sound murky, leaving important elements buried behind less interesting ones.
Though Beast Moans doesn't fully live up to its enormous potential, it's an incredibly interesting album. Taken as an experiment where three great songwriters get together, throw their idiosyncrasies at each other and see what sticks, it's fascinating. But as a cohesive work, it doesn't quite hold up.