Canadian singer-songwriter Daniel Bejar has likely had two moments when he realized that the music he was making with his bandmates was something special. The first probably occurred with the New Pornographers, in which Bejar assists Carl “A.C.” Newman with songwriting duties for the all-star cast of sugar-soaked maple-leaf merriment. The second must have occurred on the road when Bejar was touring for 2004’s Your Blues, his fifth solo release as Destroyer. Bejar’s Canadian chums in Frog Eyes saddled up as his opening act as well as his backing band, and the recreation of Your Blues began.
Ecstatic about the energetic live performances, Bejar invited Frog Eyes to commit this experience to tape for Destroyer’s fans. But instead of piecing together a more-often-disappointing-than-not live album, Destroyer and Frog Eyes re-recorded six songs from Your Blues in the studio, to be released as the Notorious Lightning and other Works EP.
With most of the help seemingly coming from Frog Eyes guitarist Carey Mercer, the Your Blues songs have sprouted a new life, reeling in furiously shredded — yet still surprisingly contained — guitar and Bejar’s vocal abandon, which screeches with cathartic release. The just-under-ten-minute version of “Notorious Lightning” builds and falls and builds and falls and builds to where Bejar is howling sounds, not words, like Jeff Mangum in the middle of a weeklong cocaine bender. And the song then falls again.
The musical tension and drama that this song structure produces is the EP’s strongest assent and its biggest curse. While it makes a song such as “Notorious Lightning” deliriously exciting, it also becomes more and more tiring every time this emotional roller coaster lulls in the incline. It makes the two New Pornographers-like songs, “New Ways of Living” and “An Actor’s Revenge,” feel like morning relief fizzies that rush to make up for the musical lollygagging prevalent throughout half this EP.
Frog Eyes adds a powerful punch to each of these tracks, but the new additions made me wonder if Bejar’s eagerness to share the reconstructions of these songs is actually rooted in some innate deficiency in the original versions. And no perfect moment on the road can make up for that.