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Destroyer

+ {Swan Lake} + {Hello, Blue Roses}

The brainchild of Canadian singer-songwriter Dan Bejar (born 4 October 1972, Vancouver, British Columbia), the road to recognition has been a long and winding one. From his first tentative steps as a “PAVEMENT-type” artist, to his fully-blown cabaret-infused chamber pop, Dan the DESTROYER has proved more than capable of running a gamut of styles.
A true indie/DIY star in the making, an eponymous limited-edition cassette made the rounds in 1995, until finally landing at the doorstep of Tinker Records, who duly issued a 16-track CD, WE’LL BUILD THEM A GOLDEN BRIDGE (1996) {*7}. Described as “eclectic lo-fi folk” in some quarters, or the “new DANIEL JOHNSTON” by others, short-ish ditties were the order of the day, with only the best piece `Leave Little Fiddler (Alone)’ extending to the 4-minute mark; check out also `Rose’, `J. Tailor’, `War On Jazz’ and `I, As McCarthy’.
After second DIY cassette, IDEAS FOR SONGS (1997) {*5} found its way to friends and family, Daniel enlisted the help of John Collins (bass, synths) and Scott Morgan (drums, sax, clarinet) for his next venture, CITY OF DAUGHTERS (1998) {*6}. Reminiscent of BOWIE or BARRETT in their own turn-of-the-70s heyday, strummer/poet Dan laid the foundation for his bedroom bard motif, through surrealist segments and stark songs such as `The Space Race’, `School And The Girls Who Go There’ and the concluding `Son Of The Earth’.
1999’s THIEF {*7} – re-issued 2000 – veered away from the unconventional into an accessible, but playful, collection of acerbic mini-anthems, corrupted only by beautiful balladry and a sense of melody. Adding yet another two members to the roster through Stephen Wood (guitar) and Jason Zumpano (keyboards), Dan’s BOWIE-meets-AL STEWART lyrical throwbacks (`Queen Of Languages’, `Canadian Lover – Falcon’s Escape’ and `To The Heart Of The Sun On The Back Of Vulture, I’ll Go’, essential examples), were beginning to garner interest.
Not content with showing prowess as a budding solo artist, Bejar and a raft of Vancouver-based musicians, under The NEW PORNOGRAPHERS banner, unveiled their first of several collaborative sets in 2000, with `Mass Romantic’; `Electric Version’ (2003), `Twin Cinema’ (2005), `Challengers’ (2007) and others, duly arrived intermittently.
Wearing his “Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust/Transformer” persona firmly on his sleeve, DESTROYER’s STREETHAWK: A SEDUCTION (2001) {*8} was equally exhilarating and, with well-crafted songs like `The Sublimation Hour’, `The Bad Arts’, `Beggars Might Ride’ and `Farrar, Straus and Giroux (Sea Of Tears)’, the observational Bejar was evolving at his own pace.
On the back of a short-stint at Sub Pop by way of single, `The Music Lovers’, Dan cast aside past alumni to enlist Nicholas Bragg, Fisher Rose and Chris Frey; it was this amalgam that was behind THIS NIGHT (2002) {*7}, his first for Merge Records. While it was never difficult to marry up his levitation-like sounds of grandeur (`Holly Going Lightly’, `I Have Seen The Light’, `The Chosen Few’, `Hey, Snow White’ et al), Bejar’s lilting croak and faux fey fop had a welcoming identity all of its own.
Helped by the production duo of JC/DC (aka John Collins and David Carswell), YOUR BLUES (2004) {*7} was another mildly critical success that went a long way to gaining ground in downtown America. As close to the likes of the underrated MOMUS, and tinted by light swathes of PREFAB SPROUT, Dan’s inventive art-pop observations came none better than `Notorious Lightning’, `An Actor’s Revenge’, `New Ways Of Living’ and `Don’t Become The Thing You Hated’.
Expanding on a few of the album’s best pieces, Bejar – now with Carey Mercer, Michael Rak, Grayson Walker and Melanie Campbell (all of FROG EYES) – released an EP: `Notorious Lightning And Other Works’, whilst another line-up, comprising Scott Morgan and John Collins (plus Ted Bois – keyboards, Nicolas Bragg – lead guitar, Tim Loewen – bass, and Fisher Rose – vibraphone, trumpet), put together Dan’s umpteenth set, DESTROYER’S RUBIES (2006) {*7}; another uber-waxing of lyrical wordplay that belied C-86 foundations. Fragile and volatile as usual, gone was the apocalyptic approach of `Your Blues’, and geeky glam-rock affectations of `Streethawk…’, and in its place was a slightly more mature, Mediterranean art-house of jangling, heartfelt verses by way of `Rubies’, `European Oils’, `Painter In Your Pocket’ and `Watercolours Into The Ocean’.
Meanwhile, yet another Bejar side-line was brewing under the name SWAN LAKE – in the wake of dispensing with the ad hoc Songwriters Project moniker. Working alongside musicians Spencer Krug (of WOLF PARADE and SUNSET RUBDOWN) and Carey Mercer (of FROG EYES and BLACKOUT BEACH), BEAST MOANS (2006) {*6} collated the trio’s Anglo-fied, post-rock traits in one fell swoop. Abstract, off-kilter and esoteric (think The POP GROUP, PERE UBU or FAD GADGET), the meandering melodies and unintelligible lyrics gelled through tasty tracks, `All Fires’, `The Freedom’, `City Calls’ and `The Pollenated Girls’.
Sparking another noisy melange of maniacal marinates, album two ENEMY MINE (2009) {*6} was another volcanic eruption of fiery freak-outs. Named after a movie that dealt with race relations, Dan’s “Berlin BOWIE”-at-the-mirror approach was maintained on `Spanish Gold, 2044’, although the calming `Paper Lace’, `Heartswarm’ and `Peace’ off-set the car-crash effect of the other speaker-blasters.
Formed around the same time in 2005, with visual artist Sydney Vermont (his girlfriend), multi-instrumentalist Bejar set out another stall with acoustic-pop folkies HELLO, BLUE ROSES. Taking their name from a line in Tennessee Williams’ novel The Glass Menagerie, the album THE PORTRAIT IS FINISHED AND I HAVE FAILED TO CAPTURE YOUR BEAUTY {*7} beamed with a myriad of influences from KATE BUSH to VASHTI BUNYAN and JUDEE SILL; the best tracks stemming from the almost medieval `Golden Fruit’ and `Come Darkness’ to the 60s-styled sunshine-pop of `Heron Song’ – pity there’d be nothing more until 2015’s vinyl-only WZO {*6}.
Prolific, if not yet possessing the potency required to break into chart listings, DESTROYER’s own lyrical abandon, TROUBLE IN DREAMS (2008) {*7}, was another to warm the cockles of fans of AL STEWART and MOMUS. While pundits tended to liken Dan to DYLAN or BOWIE, prog chord changes over shambolic, piano-led rhythms were part and parcel of his lyrical, nonsensical explorations. Clean-cut or complicated, Dan struck a blow for romantic rock through `My Favorite Year’, `The State’, `Foam Hands’ and the autumnal AOR lilt of `Libby’s First Sunrise’.
Inevitably, his precocious persistence paid off when, in January 2011, KAPUTT {*8}, furnished him with a Top 75 solo breakthrough. Featuring his elongated `Bay Of Pigs’ (initially released as a 12-inch in ’09) and nocturnal night-shifts that would recall BOZ SCAGGS, DONALD FAGEN or The BLUE NILE, Dan the man had spent too much time night clubbing. “Ambient disco” or “sophisti-pop”, DESTROYER slid into AOR territory like some modern-day BURT BACHARACH, while killer cuts stemmed from `Poor In Love’, the 8-minute oriental `Suicide Demo For Kara Walker’ and the bass-y, NEW ORDER-esque `Savage Night At The Opera’ – earworms all!
Set for greater things, maybe the unconventional time-lapse between solo DESTROYER albums, led to fewer fans buying into his new wave/new romantic soul, thus POISON SEASON (2015) {*8} just failing to breech the Top 100; surprising if one thinks that The NEW PORNOGRAPHERS had turned in Top 20 performances via 2010’s `Together’ and 2014’s `Brill Bruisers’. The commercial aspect that Dan’s DESTROYER alumni had alienated older fans, whilst the jazzy, chamber-pop reaches were far too intricate and street-smart for lovers of the mirror-ball, were a possible explanation. Including no less than three versions of his “Year Of The Cat”-like `Times Square’ (two of them bookends to emphasize the track’s dramatic quality), Dan’s delicate beat-poet narratives were stuck in a NYC time-warp. The buoyant `Dream Lover’ and the saxy `Archer On The Beach’, diverted listeners away from his LOU REED-meets-PET SHOP BOYS sound on `Midnight Meets The Rain’, `Sun In The Sky’ and `The River’.
© MC Strong 2011/GFD2 // rev-up MCS Dec2015

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