Vol 1, Num 2 :: 2002.09.27 — 2002.10.10
The best songs in the world don’t sound like they were written. They sound as if they have always existed, as if the songwriter had only to uncover them. If a person is lucky, she will write maybe one or two songs like this in her entire career. The truly great songwriters are those who can write songs like this consistently.
Enter Destroyer, driven by the genius of Dan Bejar (perhaps best known for his work with The New Pornographers). Although he has been writing great music since the late 90s, his latest album, Streethawk: A Seduction, is the first one that pushes him from good songwriter to great songwriter. The songs on Streethawk just exist. They’re beautiful and they’re nearly perfect, yet they’re still unpredictable and surprising at times.
Despite the beauty of the music that he writes, it’s often a combination of the lyrics and vocal style that really set the music apart. He has the rare gift of being able to completely control the energy of a song with his voice. On the opening track, he ends the song with an unaccompanied vocal line which may be the most powerful bit of the song. The lyrics are intentionally cryptic and often consist of word plays and unlikely juxtapositions, yet he manages to avoid even a hint of pretentiousness. He creates wonderfully unexpected imagery. One of my favorite lines comes from the song “The Bad Arts”: “your eyes… just had to be twin prizes waiting for the sun”.
Dan Bejar’s entire philosophy of lyrics and vocals within a song is refreshingly different from the philosophies of most popular musicians. His voice is an instrument. Words are not just meaning, they’re syllables, they’re sound. And all the phrasing and sounds of those syllables are crafted as beautifully as the music that he writes. Despite the fact that he’s not always trying to say something concrete, the words are never an afterthought. They’re an integral part of the music. He admitted as much in an interview with Pitchfork Media: “If you just look at the lyric sheet, I don’t think you’re getting the whole story. I mean, people approach Destroyer in that way, and I think that’s missing the point. Lyrics are about how you sing them, the phrasing, and the sound of them as well. At least for me.”
So go pick up a copy of Streethawk: A Seduction. It’s one of the best things to happen to popular music in recent years. On first listen, you may be reminded of early David Bowie (which is understandable since “The Sublimation Hour” has definite overtones of Mott the Hoople’s “All The Young Dudes”). But after a few listens, you’ll realize that he’s doing something completely different and unique. The music has elements of 70s-era glam-rock, as well as current indie-rock, but is very difficult to pigeon-hole with a genre description and is ultimately uniquely Destroyer. Highlights of the album include “The Bad Arts,” “The Very Modern Dance,” and “Helena” (which showcases his unique voice perhaps better than any other song on the album). But there’s not a mediocre song on the entire album.
I’ll leave you with a little commandment from the song “The Bad Arts,” which everyone (perhaps Christians especially) would do well to consider: “Thou shalt not take part in, or make, bad art.” Indeed.