Sunday, April 17, 2011

What We're Listening To: Destroyer (Guest Post)

Merge Records 2011

This has been on heavy rotation at the homestead.  I was planning on doing a write-up for this album, Dan Bejar's ninth under the Destroyer moniker, but I asked Micheal Goertzen, a good friend of mine and unabashed Bejar acolyte to share some of his thoughts via email instead.  I hope you enjoy his words as much as I did...

I read a number of reviews and some of them truly seem to miss the point, flagrantly saying Bejar has become irrelevant and that it sounds like an 80’s album. Isn't it supposed to be these things? The great thing about Bejar lyrics is they're not supposed to be "understood." One could say Bejar is making himself irrelevant in the most gorgeous Sade-esque way…Even when I'm not fully engaged in this album or it feels like he's repeating himself, it's never offensive or something I want to turn off. A lot of it is smoother than Destroyer's ever been. 

"Blue Eyes": "You're a permanent figure of jacked-up sorrow..." and that chorus with the title-name. It's like revisionism going through another revisionist filter. It's like he's making fun of artists representing beauty in their work…or like he's made a kitschy joke for himself. Or maybe he likes blue eyes. Seems silly to write about all the possibilities of what probably isn't. 

Right now, "Savage Night at the Opera" is my favorite song. For some reason, the chord progression and the sound of the lead guitar sound like nothing I've ever heard, and with these headphones Dan's "Da-da-dums" are right in my head. Great line: "I heard your record. It's alright." Or is it? Great phrasing of "infinite sense of value." 

I love the guitar intro to "Suicide Demo for Kara Walker." And that groove at the two minute mark! Who's Kara Walker? I read something about him basing those lyrics on her words.

"Poor in Love": When I first heard this song, I felt Bejar had copied a previous melody from a New Pornographer's song he wrote. The one that goes: "The bells ring: No no no no no no no ...." But now it's one of my favorites on this album. I think something of my early U2 love is kicking in here, too; regarding chord changes, bass, and steady kick-drum. "Why's everybody sing along when we built this city on ruins?" Love that for whatever it is, and just the further variations on it. Here he's a singer with an anthem for an empty stadium.

"Kaputt" is apparently the title of an Italian novel Dan never read...This song is lush though doesn't do much for me. Part of the flow. "Step out of the toga and into the fog. You are a prince on the ocean" is pretty awesome for reasons unknown. 

"Downtown" is the kind of generalization, a bit like "Blue Eyes" or when Mr. Bejar says "love," which really works because he is so often writing in a mythology of specifications and underground esoterica. If I think about Vancouver downtown or Vancouver's Chinatown (the first song which I didn't jot anything about), it's not really worthy of that kind of lionization though I think poetically it seems more like what [urban] America could represent from some skewed dimension. But I think that's an important aspect of this album, where Dan is over-generalizing, to the point where he's made it specifically unique. Yeah, I know, I'm hook-line-and-sinker believing that Bejar is smarter than the common man and does everything for a notable reason. Even a line like... "why I married Jane from down the lane. Went insane..."  I don't [particularly] like it, but I'd still appreciate hearing Bejar's reasons for such triteness. I'm of the camp that doesn't understand how someone can't wholeheartedly love Destroyer. It's a blind stance to take, but I have something irreconcilable with someone who says that Destroyer doesn't do anything for them, since, to me, the music and the lyrics are always so rich, like the best works of art: always revealing more or giving something different upon repetition.

Now, "Song for America" seems thematically slippery and weird. I think Dan grew up in California, but still it seems like he writes outside of nationalities; neither American, Canadian nor Spanish. "And animals crawl towards death's embrace. Winter, spring, summer, fall. Fox kick[s] a ball on a Sunday strung-out in the rain.” Is this a development of Lars von Trier's vision in Antichrist? A day out in Stanley Park?

"Bay of Pigs" doesn't seem to fit, like some of the reviews say. When it starts, it makes me think the album is over. But then I settle into it after the opening, "Listen. I've been drinking as our house lies in ruins," and "the world is black stones dressed up in the rain." The song is filled with sequenced non-sequiturs, many of them gems, like previous offerings have been (particularly from Destroyer's Rubies). Some of my best-loved lyrics are on this track.

Michael Goertzen lives in Istanbul and is a freelance writer and sometimes teacher. 

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