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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.

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