The concept of a musician becoming more “mature” with each album release isn’t a terribly uncommon thing to hear. It’s almost become cliche. And in most cases, it doesn’t mean an improvement.
New Pornographers/Vancouver Nights’ Dan Bejar has been recording as Destroyer since 1995, growing quirkier and more obtuse with each record. On his solo project’s fifth album, Your Blues, he’s managed to project just how articulate his music has become, all without the pretentiousness of saying that this is indeed a mature record.
Progressively, Destroyer’s sound has evolved from the poppy rock of 2000’s Thief to the more cryptic and obtuse lyrics of 2001’s Streethawk: A Seduction. This Night, his underrated fourth release and first for Merge, was melodic and fragile and at times almost nonsensical lyrically, showcasing Bejar’s admiration for David Bowie. With Your Blues, Bejar and his three Vancouver mates toy with a few key elements — Bejar’s dubbed it “European Blues” — the cross between avant garde and scholastic rock.
Combining a dramatic vocal style that’s analogous to Bowie’s in the 1970s with 1980s sophisti-pop acts like Microdisney and Prefab Sprout, Your Blues is one of 2004’s lo-fi successes so far. Listening to it is almost like watching a Shakespearean play. Launched with the strummed guitar and spoken recital of “Notorious Lightning,” Bejar expands on his vision with the bright, synth-orchestration of “An Actor’s Revenge” and the keen, adventurous pop of “The Music Lovers.”
The long a cappella intro on the title cut is a difficult listen, but Destroyer’s records are never without a challenge or two, and to be fair, most of the songs deserve a second listen in order to thoroughly digest them. The majority of the songs dabble in melancholic themes, but even through the bowing viola sounds, Destroyer ensures that a profound optimism is evident, much like the highs and lows of a theatre performance.
It’s not jazz, it’s not punk, it’s barely even pop and sure as hell doesn’t sound Canadian. What Your Blues is a balancing act between the “Adult: the Contemporary and the Disastrous.” It’s a high wire Destroyer continues to walk on solidly after all these years, each wiser than the last.