Since joining Merge Records in 2002, Dan Bejar has been awfully ambitious and inventive with his records, from the prog-rock of This Night to the soaring midi-glitz of Your Blues. But when the label described the new Destroyer EP, Bay of Pigs, as "ambient disco," we didn't know quite what to make of it.
On Side A, with "Bay of Pigs," it means over 13 minutes of pulsing, airy atmospherics and Bejar's moody wordplay. For the first half of the track, synthesizers swoon faintly in the background as Bejar half-mumbles, sounding weary and hungover on lines like "The world is just black stones" and "As apocalypses go, that's pretty good." It all sounds defeated and heartbreaking, until Bejar "flies into rages" halfway in at the mention of one Christine White.
Christine is just one in a long line of girl's names employed in Bejar's songs, but here she jolts him to life, speeding up his booze-tired misery into a labyrinth of bizarre "You" and "I" statements. "You were on the side of good, I was inside of the sea's guts," for example.
When the band finally kicks in behind him, all that atmosphere gets a lean and driving home over which Bejar can rage. Drum and bass thump along, guitar gives it a shuffling dance feel. And Bejar continues to twist his song into knots that you can never quite undo. It doesn't turn into a love song, nor does it ever seem completely political. But the success of the track comes in Bejar morphing the despondence he emotes at the beginning into a way to fit into the world. The only way, it seems, to join in on his world of turmoil is to add to the tension. So he keeps that rift and lofts accusations and pines for a time long gone (mainly 1992), and when the band fades, he's left with nothing but those lilting electronics.
On the B side, "Ravers" is half the length of "Bay of Pigs," but it feels just as long. And I mean that in a good way. Synthesizers stretch out and yawn, while Bejar ghostly croons, resting on "You always had a problem flowing down river," a line taken from his last album, Trouble in Dreams. This track never kicks in like "Bay of Pigs" does, but it reaches a mini-crescendo in the middle with a haunting surge that sounds like the soundtrack to Dawn of the Dead, which fits the ghostly track perfectly.
There may only be two songs here, but Bejar does a lot with them. He gives us both the clever tricks we expect from him and a whole new sound in which for them to swirl around. One of these days Bejar might just settle on a sound and settle in, but if his explorations in the meantime are always going to be this engaging, then I'm willing to let him keep fighting against flowing down river.
Bay of Pigs is an 20-minutes-and-change 12-inch vinyl. The exclusive two-track EP holds one of the longest songs in Destroyer's oeuvre, with its title track.At 13:37, it's also Dan Bejar's first try at the ambient disco genre. Look out Chromatics! The song was recorded during the winter of 2009 with longtime Destroyer collaborators/bandmates John Collins and David Carswell at their JCDC Studio, in downtown Vancouver. And yes, "Bay of Pigs" does refer to the historical event. Additionally, the music for the almost-eight-minute “Ravers” was played entirely on analogue synthesizer, and recorded, by Ted Bois (Destroyer, Pink Mountaintops) in April 2009. The more 20th century classical composition is said to be "a casual rumination on parties, political parties, madness and suffering (for one’s art)." Sounds like Destroyer to me.