Destroyer - Biography
Vancouver, BC native Dan Bejar is one of the most engaging singer-songwriters working today, and while he’s best known as one of the leaders of the alt-rock supergroup, the New Pornographers, and, more recently, Swan Lake, the bulk of his efforts have been directed at his own project, Destroyer. Over the better part of 15 years he’s shown an irrepressible knack for facile, poetic wordplay and he assembles pop hooks and infectious licks with casual abandon. His vocalizing is by no means brilliant, yet it cuts through the clatter, and there's a certain humility within his unconventional, hiccupping cadences. It's a precocious voice, but it’s also self-deprecating, which makes it charming and just a tad irresistible. As a performer he's affable, and likeable, and if you listen closely, there's a glimmer of genius within his pop sensibility — but it's so understated that you don't hate him for it. Besides it’s hard to hate a Canadian. They’re a generally benign race.
Bejar’s debut as Destroyer was We'll Build Them a Golden Bridge (1996 Tinker Records), a low-fidelity brand folk excursion that got behind its eccentricities but pushed them with a little too much force. Still, all of the building blocks are there: the loopy delivery and the lyrical whimsy, as well as the complete saturation in rock and pop references. Bejar likes to play conceptual games, name check other musicians and recordings and sling things around in the pop-cultural sandbox; there’s more evidence of this on the brief cassette, Ideas for Songs (1997 Granted Passage). The next full-length follow-up CD was far less contrived. In City of Daughters (1998 Triple Crown Audio), Behar barked his way through all sorts of nimble syntactic contortions.
The real artistic breakthrough came with the release of Thief (2000 Catsup Plate/Triple Crown Audio). It features a full band, and there are several moments where the pop gets smart — Robin Hitchcock degrees of smart, no less — while the wordsmithing gets wily. When he sets his mind to it, Bejar can make Mark E. Smith sound reasonably coherent. “To the Heart of the Sun on the Back of the Vulture, I'll Go” is a simple, warped joy. The lo-fi pretensions of We'll Build Them a Golden Bridge sound mildly bogus in light of the shimmering ecstasies of Thief, and if there were any doubts that Behar was on the right track, the fourth album would dispel them outright.
Beneath a bright pop surface, Streethawk: A Seduction (2001 Misra) ranges from oblique to degrees of bizarre Jabberwockiness as Behar and band careen from twisted acoustic songs to bouncy, enthused electric numbers. “The Bad Arts” is indicative, full of verbal twists and casually disorienting musical turns. Bejar tends to get pummeled with David Bowie comparisons, but he’s really quite the opposite. Bowie was weird on the surface, rather conventional underneath. That’s why he was able to switch styles like topcoats. Destroyer’s got a far more insidious agenda. Bejar keeps things superficially sane so he can undermine and subvert convention at pop’s molecular level. It’s great.
The next several albums continue in this inspired vein. Destroyer signed with alt-kingmakers Merge and released This Night (2002 Merge), followed by Your Blues (2004 Merge). The latter was an unexpected jolt, as Bejar ditched the band, opting to utilize various MIDI-based orchestral arrangements, to wildly successful effect. Still, to cover his bases, Bejar re-recorded a number of the songs from Your Blues with backing from the band Frog Eyes, and released them as an EP, Notorious Lightning and Other Works (2005 Merge). The songs work just as well in either context. Destroyer’s Rubies (2006 Merge) is aces, an inscrutable insta-classic, with such gems as, “Those who love Zeppelin will eventually betray Floyd;I cast off those couplets in honor of the void,” from the track, “A Dangerous Woman Up to a Point.”
Trouble in Dreams (2008 Merge) solidifies the Destroyer lineup, and benefits as a result. The arrangements are lush and expansive; as always the lyrics are beyond enigmatic: a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, surrounded by an enigma. It’s also a mystery as to how Dan Bejar manages to be so productive. All of these Destroyer albums are concurrent with his work in the New Pornographers; he’s in Swan Lake with the guys from Frog Eyes and Wolf Parade; he’s collaborated with girlfriend Sydney Vermont in her group, Bonaparte; the two also perform as a duo called Hello, Blue Roses, and their debut was recently released: The Portrait Is Finished and I Have Failed to Capture Your Beauty (2008 Locust). That’s a pretty awesome album title, but you’d expect nothing less from Dan Bejar.