Why Destroyer Rules by Paul Lawton (2014)
I have a borderline obsessive relationship with Dan Bejar’s music. It was 2001, and I had a copy of New Pornographer’s “Mass Romantic” and was only into the Bejar contributions “Jackie,” “Execution Day,” and especially “Breaking the Law,” so I bought a copy of “Streethawk: A Seduction.” “Streethawk” was an epiphany for me, in that Destroyer was a band made for modern times.
As my excitement about new Destroyer material grew, I started to develop a ritualistic approach to his new albums. I would often buy new albums as soon as possible, digesting albums as a whole in one sitting, then again in a second sitting. I usually drink wine because it seems like something to do.
The evolution from “Streethawk: A Seduction” to “This Night” is not huge, but “This Night” is a marked improvement in Bejar’s songwriting. The album is so messy and under-developed in the most precise way. “This Night” contains some of Bejar’s most groundbreaking song structures and lyrical ideas.
“Your Blues” was the first time a Destroyer album felt like he was driving the car into oncoming traffic, trading his shambolic live band for … midi-synths. I remember buying the CD, listening all the way through once and hating it immediately. It was the first time as a music fan that I felt like I understood what Pete Seeger must have been feeling when Dylan went electric.
As much as I hated “Your Blues” on first listen, I loved it on second listen. The process of “getting it” unlocked the pathway of becoming a superfan. “Your Blues” felt like Dan Bejar was letting me in on a secret. It felt personal.
My superfandom has resulted in following Destroyer on tour like a deadhead, contributing to the Destroyer Wiki and message boards (R.I.P.). I have read books because Dan Bejar references them in lyrics – “Notes from the Underground,” “The Fall.” I formed a band called Endangered Ape based on a lyric. I have played the Destroyer drinking game on more than one occasion.
I own the only copy of Bejar’s demo tape that he submitted to the Brave New Waves “Bag of Tapes” segment that pre-dates “Ideas for Songs.” This demo contains the earliest known Dan Bejar demos, and though it is not good in any sense, it is compelling enough as a comparison point.
There are some musicians that just nail it out of the gate. Most people like “the earlier” material better, often because it is closest to the inspiration point. Dan Bejar is an exception to this rule – a musician who improves release after release. From the release of his first album “City of Daughters” in 1998 all the way through to his near-perfect 2011 album “Kaputt,” Destroyer gets better. He gets better, in part, because each release is a refinement process.
For example, the story that many people miss with the turn that “Your Blues” took with midi misses the point, in that that losing his band allowed Bejar to focus on his voice, lyrics and song structures. When Bejar returns to form on 2006’s Rubies, you can see him take the elements that worked on “Your Blues,” combining those elements with what was working on “This Night.” It is thrilling to watch.
I’ve seen Destroyer live over a dozen times to date, in churches, halls, festivals and bars, and each time was unique. Often, he walks the line between being chaotic and even downright terrible (see: Edmonton, 2007). Most of the time, Destroyer live is a phenomenal experience.
Destroyer plays a rare solo set at Kazoo! Fest on Friday April 11th at Dublin St. United Church alongside Bry Webb. Tickets are still available for this show at The Bookshelf or online via Music Lives.