Graded on a Curve:
Destroyer,
Destroyer’s Rubies

I can sum up the genius of Dan Bejar (aka Destroyer) in two lines of his inimitable verse. To wit, “Those who love Zeppelin will soon betray Floyd/I cast off those couplets in honor of the void.” They come from “A Dangerous Woman Up to a Point,” one of the many wonderful songs on his brilliant 2006 LP, Destroyer’s Rubies.

The Vancouver native’s cryptic lyrics and dramatic vocal stylings—he takes flamboyance to the point of hilarity—make him a one of a kind performer. It’s not every day you run across a fabulous glam/folkie who sounds like a cross between Al “Year of the Cat” Stewart and Donovan on crank, and croons things like this, from “Looter’s Follies”:

I lifted the veil to see / nature’s trickery / revealed as pure shit / from which nothing ever rose / because nothing ever could / I swear somewhere the truth lies within this wood / and I swear looter’s follies has never sounded so good / and win or lose, what’s the difference?

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking who is this pompous jerk? But here’s the thing—he sings those words in a histrionic fervor that practically screams, “I’m just fucking around here people–maybe!” My favorite “artistes” often walk the tightrope between sincerity and total shuck, and half the joy of watching them is wondering if even they know where their sympathies lie at any given moment. It’s called the pleasure of irony, and it’s what separates the hotshots from the hooples. Take it away, and what are we left with? So much earnest turdage.

Destroyer’s Rubies is a cornucopia of mad wordplay, and constitutes what may well be the richest fount of surrealistic imagery this side of the mid-sixties’ Bob Dylan. But Bejar is far more than just a wordsmith. He has a knack for setting his torrent of verse to melodies that roll and tumble just the way his words do, and he sings them in a way that defies simple characterization. He knows how to build to an ecstatic musical climax, too, as he demonstrates on “Sick Priest Learns to Last Forever,” which boasts some great raw-boned guitar, cool saxophone, a slinky beat, tinkling piano, and some of Bejar’s most over-the-top vocalizing. Reminds me of Bowie’s Aladdin Sane period, it does.

“Looter’s Follies” is the LP’s centerpiece, and a slow but thrilling introduction to Bejar’s idiosyncratic approach to making music that sounds like nobody else’s. A great sing-along section builds and builds as Bejar’s vocals become more and more excitable, deranged even, until he cries out, “All cuz our babies are dy-hy-yin’!” Once again the only reference point is early seventies Bowie, but Destroyer’s songs are shaggier, jazzier, less calculated. And I can’t say what Bejar is getting at when he sings, “Kids you’d better change your feathers/Cuz you’ll never fly with those… things,” but it never fails to make me happy.

“Looter’s Follies” is followed by the wonderful “3000 Flowers,” a propulsive guitar rave-up that thrills me to the bone. “Okay, that’s good,” he ad libs as the guitar, one punch-drunk piano, and some very cool percussion kick into overdrive, and along the way he drops such pearls of dada wisdom as, “The initiates brought out in tumbrels/Shat out by the dawn” and (my fave!) “And like a woman I was careless/As the wealthy American underground/Wept at the sight of Rhode Island sinking/Into the sea.” And there’s no beating the closing lines, “And the sky/Still reigns/Supreme over the land/As the music lovers/Sat cross-legged in the sand/And in time and space/And in other words in the band/Who, much like churchgoers, fuck themselves… up.”

I am of the opinion that Dan Bejar is the true heir apparent to David Bowie, although I would like to stress—once again—that Bejar is anything but an imitator. On such swell songs as “Your Blood,” “European Oils,” and the other tracks I’ve been too busy to mention, Bejar brings a soaring sense of drama and good old-fashioned showmanship to every word he sings, and the effect is flat-out exhilarating. The guy’s a genius, a unique talent, and loads of fun. Campy fun, even. But like I said before, take that away and what do you have? So much earnest turdage.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A+

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