he fact is that most popular music centers around the assimilation and regurgitation of a few blueprints created long ago by the upper echelon of influential artists–The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, The Pixies, etc. But in the case of artists whose breadth of influence has been so great as to establish entire genres, well...it’s a completely different matter altogether. These individuals are the architects of their genre’s aesthetic, the builders of elaborate standardized systems to which future music of the same genre will be compared. Take Glam-Rock (and because the subject of this review, Destroyer’s Your Blues, is mostly rooted in this sub-genre, I think we shall). Since David Bowie first minced around the stage in harlot makeup and his blue-gold spacesuit, theatrically claimed to be from Mars and bent the rigidity of gender roles to suit his own peaked sexual ambiguity, Glam can be more or less distinguished by anything Bowie did between Hunky Dory and Scary Monsters. Anything else might be considered a half-hearted grasp at the alluring controversy Bowie created and would eventually epitomize.
So how seriously should one take the aspirations of Destroyer (a.k.a. Dan Bejar)? Bejar’s music, grandiose and orchestral in a way unlike many of his peers, serves primarily as a foundation for his odd, hermetic lyrics. "Well, you had the best legs in a business built for kicks!" he sang on "The Sublimation Hour," from 2001's Streethawk: A Seduction. It’s a clever-enough lyric on it’s own, but one whose imperceptibility is increased twofold when Bejar follows it up with "But was this changing of the guards really supposed to make you sick?" Thus the song (like others on the record) spirals off into its own opaque vision of corporate paranoia, amnesiac virgins, and veiled threats angled towards invisible assailants. More than having any discernable meaning, Bejar seems in love with the cadences of words, his ability to whip them together into a tangle of meaning, or maybe none at all. Being neither Thin, nor pale enough to be deemed White, Bejar clearly imagines himself to be a Duke of mutilated colloquialisms. No matter that his voice is more thin and nasal than Bowie’s; the fervor of his performance usurps the obtuseness of his lyrics. As Bowie used his unearthly croon to render himself a Spider from Mars, Bejar’s terrifically passionate whine turns his music just as urgent, and just as haunting, as his maker’s. Your Blues illuminates the emergence of another Bowie/Bejar trend--the release of albums so conceptually different from each other that they seem as if they had been made by completely different artists. If the cabareet piano of Streethawk was Bejar moving into his Hunky Dory phase, and the loose guitar-work of This Night his Aladdin Sane, the gaudy, keyboard-laden Blues could be described as his Heroes–or, rephrased in a manner and more flattering to Bejar, it’s the first of his records to step out from beneath Bowie’s long shadow and claim an identity all of its own.
"Notorious Lightning" opens the record with Bejar raving flamboyantly against a background of gorgeous, harmonizing keyboards. Before the song reverts back to a traditional Destroyer ballad (with strummed nylon guitar, and Bejar’s wildly effusive musings), the listener is able to pontificate on the production choices has made. Bejar’s unusual voice sounds more confident, and higher up in the mix; the several keyboards on the album provide a faux-choral background that accentuates the inscrutable urgency of the lyrics. But the extent of Bejar’s weird production flourishes doesn’t reveal itself until two minutes into the song, when a fanfare of keyboards emerges and sees the end of the album’s Destroyer-esque balladry, and its ascension into more thrilling, unknown territories. Contrary to being a purposeless artistic choice, the keyboards revel in the faux-emotionalism of only the most ambitious role-playing game soundtracks, supporting the emotionality of Bejar’s claims. As Bejar raises his voice about the artificial tumult to sing, "And someone’s got to fall before someone goes free!", the listener finds themselves engaged in Bejar’s barely lucid sermons–despite having no idea why someone has to fall, before someone goes free (And having no idea who either of these people are). It’s befuddling, indulgent, and terminally abstract; the perfect Destroyer song, in other words.
Though Destroyer songs have always been eminently listenable, under scrutiny they tend to fall apart into series of melodic ideas Bejar returns to time and again. There hasn’t been anything wrong with this in the past–but hearing Your Blues reiterates the significance of the instrumental breadth Bejar now utilizes. It’s difficult to imagine the melancholy hand-claps and sallow atmospheric restraint of "It’s Gonna Take An Airplane," appearing on Streethawk, a fantastic, but admittedly one-note album. Likewise "The Music Lovers," uses swooning keyboards to enhance the bizarre introduction of it’s first stanza: "Feeling fine, but it must be the wine, ‘cause it’s April 27th and my baby’s still dying on me." At his lyrical best, Bejar manages to pack an incredible amount of decipherable material into his words; if Your Blues has a fault, it is a sacrifice of lyrical cleverness and semi-cohesion in favor of massive simplification. "Don’t Become the Thing You Hated" and "From Oakland to Warsaw" both suffer from repetitive lyrics and short running times–but if Bejar felt he had to trade in lyrical complexity for such an engaging aesthetic overhaul, I suppose it works well enough.
Though his most inscrutable record, Your Blues ultimately finds Bejar at a new creative peak, and establishes Destroyer as an utterly unique and singular vision: who would have known that tinny synthesizers and faux-Medieval arrangements would buttress Bejar’s garrulous wordplay so well? Only Bejar himself–terminally shy, and bleeding his warped sensibilities onto Destroyer’s every note–could so successfully transmute his timid persona into that of a prophetic street-person, jabbering to the townsfolk of his own imagined magic kingdom. That the outmoded instrumentation and cracked lyrics of this record work at all is a minor miracle; that they work so well, and so cohesively, is not only a revelation, but just a further reiteration of how far ahead of the game Bejar actually is.
Reviewed by: Eric Seguy
Reviewed on: 2004-03-11