estroyer’s like a big ol’ Rottweiller: some call him dangerous, others call him protective; some say scary, others say noble. Their detractors will always seem very well-reasoned and casual, almost indifferent, while their fans seem to twist in adulatory diarrhea, obsessing, drooling; sick. A couple of summers ago, I received a package from a friend containing lyrics of several Destroyer songs written out and lovingly illustrated; two other friends and I followed suit, spending a chunk of July transcribing and illustrating our own lyric sheets. Destroyer is a band for fans, a feast or famine experience, a tattoo-your-forearm experience.
And really, who the hell would want to listen to Destroyer? Moderately sloppy indie rock clichés under half-tuneless torrents of words about hating sloppy indie rock clichés; romantic, intoxicated spiels about how rock & roll grandiosity is a cesspool. Destroyer’s Dan Bejar practically shits where he eats; he’s a parasite. In A Moveable Feast, hunter/drunk Ernest Hemingway described the thrill and clarity of seeing art on an empty stomach. For years, Bejar’s chewed through rock stereotypes through reference, self-reference, criticism, and an unrepentant cleverness, all in service of it—a difficult, if not self-defeating gesture.
So the answer, of course, is that Destroyer is for people who feel let down by the gap between indie rock in theory (challenging, exciting) and in practice (bloated, tiresome); it’s Edna St. Vincent Millay all over again: “I love humanity, but I hate people.” Bejar’s approach has always been about creating dissonance—working against something from within something—but he’s never seemed as emotionally polarized and knotted as he does on Destroyer’s Rubies. The earnest chamber rock arrangements are his most studiously anonymous and pleasant/polished yet, less unusual than the exaggerated “rock” looseness of This Night or the plasticine affect of Your Blues’ mini-MIDI fantasias—frankly, it’s willfully on par with the 2D summation of the indie “American Underground” that the lyrics constantly allude to. What’s funny is that Bejar’s been at it for so long that he’s practically his own genre; you can’t help but feel stoked by the irony of how shamelessly anthemic he is for such an embittered windbag—imagine kids swaying under the moonlight with lighters in the air singing along clumsily to “I lifted the veil to see nature’s trickery reveal this pure shit from which nothing ever rose, ‘cause nothing ever could / I swear somewhere the truth lies within this wood / I swear Looters Follies has never sounded so good!”
Destroyer’s Rubies has a slightly uncanny feel to it. Bejar is so wound up in his own idiosyncratic mythologies, so hopelessly himself that some fans have already said it sounds like a greatest hits record; appropriate that a meta-rocker’s final frontier is his own reflection in the mirror. It’s true—Bejar’s reached the late hours of the party, he’s smashing champagne glasses in the fireplace and whinging about the state of rock to girls who look anxiously around the room; he’s played himself occasionally to the point of self-parody, he’s turned himself inside out. For Destroyer, that’s something of an apotheosis.
What rallies Destroyer fans—I suspect—is the idea that it’s okay to be obsessive, to police yourself, to consider, to question and criticize. Thinking deeply about something or regarding it with caution is ultimately a display of love, even if we end up with gutfuls of coal rather than assloads of diamonds. Destroyer’s Rubies fizzles and weeps, it twitches without rest; in the final stretch of the nine-minute opener “Rubies,” Bejar pleads “Please don’t wake me from this, my golden slumber—I am proud to be a part of this number,” then bangs a chord on the guitar a split second too early; he makes haste because contradiction often breeds passion, and Bejar’s got enough to make a litter, and to each their own tapeworm.