Sunday, 24 June 2012

Destroyer - "Streethawk: A Seduction' (Misra)

I've listened to this CD so many times that I can't actually play it anymore. Not because I'm tired of it -- far from that -- but because one day I dropped the disc into some freshly applied polyurethane while refinishing some wood, and now it doesn't play. I kept the disc as a tribute, burned a copy from a friend, and resumed it's regular rotation. Streethawk: A Seduction is a title that sounds like a concept album, and maybe it is. Despite my hundreds of listens I'm not quite sure what the story is, though Bejar really explicitly takes on the world of indie music here, with frequent references to culture which would normally make me wince, but here are done expertly (and cryptically). Track two, 'The Bad Arts', may be the greatest Destroyer song; it has it all, an epic buildup, lyrics that seem very much of my world in 2001 ('Thou shall not take part in, or make bad art'!), and a beautiful, transcendent coda (with lyrics borrowed from a Joy Division tune). I will say it again - I have listened to Streethawk a shocking number of times, and would count it among my favourite albums of all time, so I have learned every nook and cranny of it's sounds. This means that every little hesitation or embellishment in Bejar's vocal delivery is a secret signal to me, a talisman for the strange world I dove into over a decade ago when I first heard this. There's the perfect amount of suggestion here; I once read into 'Farrar, Straus & Giroux (Sea of Tears)' a narrative directly applicable to my own life, knowing of course this was ridiculous, but that's why metaphors are great. Every song is a classic here; there's not a second of filler (whereas the last two albums had frequent instrumental interludes, Streethawk is overflowing with language, making me think Bejar hit a real creative burst around this time). Over time, the songs that had the least impact on me grew to become my favourites. I could just list the things I love here. When this was released it got a fair amount of attention, which it deserved, though I couldn't help but feel the Bowie comparisons were overdone. Yeah, the ascending vocals and piano on songs like 'The Sublimation Hour' are totally Ziggy Stardust, but after a few hundred listens I started to see a stronger connection to Pavement. It sounds crazy because the aesthetic is different, but the vocal turns and casual yet expressive glitches in his delivery are shockingly similar to Malkmus circa Wowee Zowee. The way Bejar sings "Helena, the ramifications / are very large tonight / the stars say don't pick a fight" is among rock music's most beautiful subtleties, but I hear a lot of 'We Dance' in there too. Musically, there more confidence here, plus the presence of Jason Zumpano on drums, continuing the path from Zumpano's own brilliant records a few years earlier. The succes of this record led to big changes in Destroyer, and he's spent most of the past decade trying out different things, confident and progressive at all times. I've kept up with all of it, but this is still his masterpiece and the one I return to most frequently.

Destroyer - 'Thief' (Cave Canem/Triple Crown Audio/Catsup Plate)

Why does one listen to a pop song over and over and over? The 'earworm' nature of a good hook surely releases some rush of endorphins, as well as the pleasures of familiarity. Then there's the case of meaning, construction and the moments in which one can be moved by a vocal delivery, an instrumental gesture, or other moment. In this case, I've been listening to Thief and it's followup CD (Streethawk) for well over a decade, amassing a ridiculous number of listens, without really understanding why. There's a lot of meaning for me in these songs, though I struggle to explain it. I certainly fell in love with Destroyer the first time I heard the lyric "Please spring us, Madeleine, from these rustic jails of lust we're living in" but I sure don't fucking understand it. Thief follows the City of Daughters sound, though the Emax synth interludes are accented with electric piano -- 'Every Christmas' is the halfway point of the disc and it does a nice job of letting down the adrenaline after the rushes of 'Falcon's Escape' and 'City of Daughters' (like Queen, Destroyer doesn't feel obligated to put the title tracks on the same albums they are named after) -- and 'M.E.R.C.I.' adds hazy vocals to the mix . You can certainly hear over the first five Destroyer records the creep towards more grandiose and ambitious arrangements, though some of  Thief 's best moments are when this is stripped back, like the title track which is a massively underrated gem. 'Destroyer's the Temple' is the classic it deserves to be, and still the first song I would play for anyone interested in Bejar as a songwriter. If you don't like this tune, you won't like Destroyer cause it's all there: the strange singing voice with it's dramatic flareups, oblique yet intriguing lyrics, and perfectly balanced pop hooks. This feels significantly more 'band' than the last record as there are some moments of true instrumental prowess - the energy of 'To The Heart of the Sun On the Back Of the Vulture, I'll Go' and the aforementioned 'Falcon's Escape' are two such examples, both titles involving birds of prey and with circles and swoops to reflect it. There's little solo acoustic strum here, as it's quickly fleshed out by organ, drums, and the rest of it. But this Destroyer is sharp -'Queen of Languages' has a pinpoint precision to it's swing, and 'The Way of Perpetual Roads' is more rhythmically complex than it looks. Everything about Thief is a bit unusual for its time - the arrangements, the scope, and even the cover art suggest an attempt to be something different than another indierock songwriter. If Canada is a parallel universe to the US, which is what it seemed like in the 90s (cite the Blue Pine CD for another example), than this was exactly the bizarro genius doppleganger to all the Malkmuses (Malkmii?) and Pollards I was so otherwised immersed in.

Friday, 1 June 2012

DENT - 'verstärker' (Magnetic)

DENT's second release is much more club-orientated, but the first half quickly blendsinto an electronica-tinged soup. The sequenced drums aren't really the problem, but rather the reliance on 'groove' replacing texture. Despite this, I sorta like Verstärker, or at least remembered liking it back in the late 90's when I last spun it. The split between vocal/songform tracks and musicality-rooted jams are much more severe than on Stimmung. When there's singing, it's a different world than the beat-orientated bits. When it's fruity, DENT seems to be trying to push things a bit further here. But I think I like it more integrated. My problem is that the jammy bits are messy - too much kitchen sink-aesthetic for my tastes. It gets more song-based as the album proceeds, leaving a pleasant taste when it finishes. There's more than a few missteps -  'Jaded Eyes', for example, can't help but remind me of a 4NonBlondes outtake, with weird thumping bass. Yet Verstärker overall is far less tossed-off than the first album, almost like it demands to be taken more seriously. 'Cause the Rain' is the standout track, a moment of real fragility amongst the clatter. There's a female voice that appears througout, perhaps 'Jane Err' or 'Allisong Fate-Levity' as credited, ad it's chilling. 'Tsuki e' is another standout, a bit of forest-folk ten years before all that shit started happening. Krummenacher's folky side comes out in the end, and it sounds like a completely different band than on the first half of the disc - an inconsistency that could be maddening, or a virtue.