Critical Voices: Destroyer, Trouble in Dreams

March 13, 2008

Destroyer, Trouble in Dreams, Merge

Dan Bejar, the chief songwriter and musician of Destroyer, is a weird fella. But he’s smart, and it sells—the raspy David Bowie voice, the deliberately obscure lyrics, the meandering array of yelps and proclamations. And it helps that his band is just getting tighter. Trouble in Dreams generally eschews the hard-charging hooks of his lastshy;shy;—and arguably most accessible—album, Rubies, but it’s still Euro-pop blues for the masses.

The newest Destroyer disc is the latest iteration of Bejar’s balancing act, attempting to combine the heavy verbiage of his early folk-pop days with a predilection toward the bigger musical punch of the traditional rock combo—I’m obligated to point out here that Bejar is also part of indie-pop supergroup The New Pornographers, and it’s rubbed off on him a little. The album is good for those who relish old-school, City of Daughters-style-Destroyer, but might be a step back for those who loved Rubies.

“Dark Leaves From A Thread” exemplifies the new effort’s style: kicking off with just Bejar and an acoustic guitar, talking to Suzanne about sipping sherry, the song launches into a drum-led jam, overlaid with a lazily grooving electric guitar. It’s a standard trope that pops up throughout the album. “And I couldn’t believe how loud it was!”: the line, from album standout “Plaza Trinidad,” also applies to the drumming in every song, which is either mixed louder or played better than on any previous Destroyer record.

Despite the noise, Bejar also affects ballad in songs like “Shooting Rockets” or “Introducing Angels”—slowing it down, bringing in the piano and playing up his own dubbed-over back-up singing. And always, it’s his weird elocution that dominates: it took me three listens of “Shooting Rockets” to figure out that the chorus was the title, not “Chu-Chu-Ra-Ra.”

Despite that, it’s the lyrics that get me—the weird opening lines, the candy bar references, the narrative, the asides, the relationship advice. Sure, “The leopard of honor speaks to a crowd of the dead/ shouting out for more” sounds weird on the page, but it works in song. As Bejar advises, “Enjoy the wretched writing on the wall.”

Voice’s Choices: “The State,” “Rivers,” “Plaza Trinidad”

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