Daniel Bejar, the New Pornographer who also contributed to the debut efforts of the Battles and Vancouver Nights, is the only original member of Destroyer. He is, actually, the only member of Destroyer that has shown up on the band’s five previous releases, which include Streethawk: A Seducation and Thief, both of which earned him a gooey slice of indie-rock notoriety. For the band’s fifth release, This Night, put out on Merge Records, Bejar has put together a sixty-eight-minute distance medley of his trademark meticulous haphazardness, an amalgamation of historical tidbits and pieces of his own imagination that sounds infinitely his own. Bejar is as quick to fall into a repetitive mantra as he is to change completely the melody and lyric pattern, and he has managed, thankfully, to find a sound that’s as smooth and intricate as it is energetic and spontaneous.
“Hey, rock ‘n’ roll’s not through (yet)…I’m sewing wings on this thing,” Bejar sings in “Makin’ Angels.” But put away your face paint … this ind’t a KISS revival. It’s more of a lesson in exploring the limits of sound and imagination, tethered (loosely) by the constraints of poetry. It seems Bejar recognized the possibilities of rhythm and composition, and, lucky for us, his explorations were fruitful. Bejar’s music is compelling in that it doesn’t sit still long enough to solidify anything. And therein lies its biggest asset.
Check “Here Comes the Night,” which like others, begins with an uncertain introduction. The sound fiddles a bit, seeming to go nowhere. But the friction effects a certain interest, and when everything comes together and the melody becomes evident, the anticipation is released — a rain cloud finally releasing its contents. Whether he’s direct (“You shouldn’t hurt the ones you love/ Unless you really want to” on “Self Portrait with Thing”) or muttering meandering stream-of-consciousness babble (Relax, trembling peacock/ No I wasn’t born to rock/ Oh, I was just plain born/ And then I kinda grew and then/ Well, Vancouver made me/ I guess it’s true” on “Trembling Peacock”) he gets the melody right.
In the midst of all that exploration, Bejar and crew couldn’t sidestep all the pitfalls. It isn’t sloppy, it isn’t self-indulgent and it isn’t without purpose. But it damn-near teeters on being all three. Bejar comes off like Basquiat, who painted with spontaneity and, if need be, would work out his problems right on the canvas. But that same smell-the-roses speed on the back half of some of the songs has me reaching for the advance button. His theatrical presentation, though still earnest and spontaneous, takes the circuitous path of a butterfly.
The best song on the record, “Goddess of Drought,” begins quickly, is direct, and has a terse transition guitar riff that also stands out. Still, I was engaged by his imagination and his ability to toy with cacophony but still produce a harmonious record, an experimentation that makes listening to Bejar on This Night worthwhile.