Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

Destroyer -- Destroyer's Rubies
Merge Records; 2006

For the last 11 years or so, Destroyer has been the musical alias of Canadian songwriter Dan Bejar. You might also recognize Bejar's nasal pipes from his work with The New Pornographers, whom he's written a handful of songs for and with. As Destroyer, and with the help of friends and associates, Bejar has released his seventh album, Destroyer's Rubies. Bejar has seen critical praise from the independent scene since Destroyer’s inception, but has yet to be recognized "above ground." While Rubies won't initiate a hostile takeover of your local rock radio station, it might prove to be the record that breaks Destroyer to an audience sizable enough for its talents.

Not as highly caffeinated or as scrupulously edited for pop-readiness as The New Pornos, Destroyer sounds like Bejar buying Christmas presents for himself -- exactly as he pleases. On Rubies, Destroyer consists of Scott Morgan (drums, baritone sax), Tim Loewen (bass, guitar, harmonica), Nicholas Bragg (guitar), Ted Bois (keyboards), Fisher Rose (vibes, trumpet), and of course, Bejar. Acoustic guitar often serves as the base, upon which a piano playfully twinkles, an electric guitar growls its leads, and a host of vocalists "la la la" themselves silly. The band's scattered use of percussion is slightly unconventional and a perfect fit for the sprawling Rubies. Bejar's untraditional voice is an aspect of Destroyer that might take some getting used to. Whether attacking his lyrics with dramatic fury or taking his time, Bejar's sinus-derived vocals tend to break and squirm around exact pitches. Sometimes he speaks his lyrics as much as he sings them. As his songs' tipsy narrator, he'll rush through lyrics with excitement or deliver them as somber as can be.

Rubies opens with an epic song of the same title -- an all-encompassing 9 minute long preview of the sounds to come. The majestic "European Oils" quickly reveals its massive charms in the form of a sparkling piano line flanked by many vocal parts singing "ba-da ba-da." Bursting with pep, "3000 Flowers" threatens to fall apart several times, held together only by a searing, Pavement-esque guitar lick and radiant bari sax jabs. Destroyer shows its ability to scale things back on the comparatively spare "Painter In Your Pocket." Relying on nimble guitar melodies and low-key drumming, Bejar delivers his confounding and accusatory lyrics with noticeable restraint. Perplexing, poetically attractive and curse-filled lyrics are par for the course in Destroyerland. Asking listeners to let go of concrete meaning is a bold move, one Bejar relishes and indulges in constantly.

Even though Rubies is a strong album, it also contains a handful of weak points and reliance on a particular song structure. "European Oils," "Looter's Follies, "Woman Up To A Point" and "Priest's Knees" all use "la la lal choruses in lieu of lyrics. Itls almost as if Bejar forgot to write lyrical hooks for his choruses, and decided on "la's" as a last minute substitute. This doesn't detract from the album's pleasant, easy-going aesthetic, but it leaves the otherwise heavily-adorned tracks feeling needlessly unfinished. Destroyer fumbles on "Your Blood" and "Priest's Knees," two songs that lack the lush, colorful tone that Rubies succeeds with. In the context of a less straight-forward record, these tunes might do better; in their current context they stick out at jagged angles.

Until recently I never spent much time with Destroyer, and wasn't even aware of Bejar's Pornographic ties. But after taking in the glowing sounds of Destroyer's Rubies, I find myself curious as to what I’ve been missing. Bejar is an intensely talented musician and composer who makes great use of his ever-changing musical desires and "unusual" voice. Rubies seems like a proper jumping-on point for new listeners and a satisfying addition to current Destroyer fans' collections.

The Subways -- Young For Eternity
WEA; 2006

Dear members of The Subways,

What the hell happened? In 2004, you guys and gal soundly trumped the competition at Glastonbury Fest's "Best Unsigned Band" contest. Full of piss and vinegar (or Red Bull and vodka), your supposedly electrifying performance was enough to score a record deal and an absurd amount of hype. Whether or not one of your dads slipped the judges serious paper for the win (or maybe the judges are hard of hearing; I'm investigating both), the three of you should be able to record an album indicative of your songwriting talent, if nothing else. And yet, here's Young For Eternity, a debut record that falls flat and finds its creators prostrated at the feet of their influences.

Let me start by saying how much I appreciate hard work. Getting a band together, writing original songs, practicing so said songs don't suck, gigging relentlessly, fighting to get noticed, recording a record, promoting said record -- all of it requires a hefty dose of dedication. By the time an album gets to reviewers, the band that released it deserves nothing less than serious props for getting that far. It honestly pains me, then, when records from new bands sound like referential, contrived garbage. But as guilty as I may feel taking the piss out of them, music this insipid deserves nothing less.

This English trio makes a mishmash of up-tempo rock and roll and more delicate acoustic tunes -- all smoothed over with an exceptional amount of studio gloss. Guitarist and lead vocalist Billy Lunn strums modest and unimaginative melodies; bassist and sometimes singer Charlotte Cooper does the same on her four-string.
Only Lunn's brother, drummer Josh Morgan (it's a long story, they're brothers all the same), brings any zest to his instrument. Whether keeping the beat or showing some technical flair, Morgan hits the skins with an intensity to which the rest of his band-mates seem immune.

Like most bands, The Subways are influenced by a handful of groups that led the music scene during its members' younger days. But in this case, the heroes that inspired The Subways to "rock out" are subject to some ruthless and conspicuous cribbing to cover a lack of ingenuity. From the opening build up to the perfunctory screams, lead single "Rock & Roll Queen" could be a tune penned by Aussie post-grungers The Vines. "Mary," the lazy tune following it, makes a pass at being the younger siblings of Oasis. Tracks like "Oh Yeah," "Holiday" and "City Pavement" all channel Kurt Cobain's work without his talent. Of the 12 songs on Young For Eternity, only two escape the comfort zone of other people's work.

Devoid of the adroitness necessary to develop their own aesthetic, it's hardly surprising the lyrics are just as basic and atrocious. Consider lines from "Mary": "Mary is my best friend / She makes me my tea / She let's me stay around her place / When there's nowhere else to be." The gauzy "Lines of Light" offers no reprieve: "The lines of light / They tell my mind I'm a child / Time passes by / And from it, I cannot hide." And just when you thought it could get no worse, there's "Rock & Roll Queen": "You are the sun / You are the only one / My heart is blue / My heart is blue for you." These poor attempts at nursery rhyme lyricism would be cute if the band's members were 8-years-old, not brain-drained early 20-year-olds.

Two ballads redeem Young For Eternity from becoming grist for a coaster. Semi-electrified love song "Lines of Light" requires listeners to ignore the words and concentrate on the lulling melodies, which are surprisingly enjoyable. "She Sun" employs the same caveat, but is hazy enough to call to mind a particularly satisfying summer nap. It's just enough to suggest The Subways may have more decent songs in them, provided they ditch the rock shtick and take a poetry class.

The Subways is yet another example of a band that confuses the ability to make music with talent, the ability to mimic as the only necessary skill for success. And if you want to make mindless records that set the curve at ankle level, sure, that'll do. But good music, truly inventive and enjoyable music, requires vision that turns influences into starting blocks. Young For Eternity is only The Subway's debut, and the group has an entire career ahead to learn and come into its own. I hope the next time I ask "what the hell happened?" about The Subways, the tone is one of pleasant surprise.

-- Your slightly friendly music critic

Arctic Monkeys -- Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not
Domino Records; 2006

The tale of the Arctic Monkeys' smash success is one that may elicit bitter epithets and flushed faces from veteran underground rockers. This four-pack of working class post-teens from Sheffield, England signed with Domino Records in 2004, only a year after picking up guitars for the first time. A year later, their rambunctious single "I Bet That You Look Good On the Dancefloor" tackled the UK singles charts, debuting at No. 1. And if Joe Indie Rocker hasn't already blown steam out his ears, here's the kicker: This January the band's debut record, Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, sold 118,501 copies on the first day. It went on to sell more copies in its first week than any other debut record in UK history.

But fanatic consumerism doesn’t always mean a group is talented, right? After all, people still buy P.O.D. albums in droves. Thankfully, this isn't the case for the oddly-named Arctic Monkeys. Full of youthful vigor and whatever lager is cheap, the group makes taut rock and roll fit for dancing or whatever debauchery is clever at the moment. Mouthpiece and lead guitarist Alex Turner yowls his lines with an expert's sense of timing and a hoarse set of pipes. Backing his spiny guitar leads is guitarist Jamie Cook, who fills out melodies with steady rhythmic swipes. Behind the kit is Matt Helders, a drummer who propels the band into action and keeps it in check with the beat of his popping snare and thumped toms. Bassist Andy Nicholson is a decent time-keeper as well, but his duties mean rarely deviating from the guitar lines he follows.

Arctic Monkeys first announced its presence with the slightly witty "I Bet That You Look Good On the Dancefloor," a tune that’s fun and catchy, but barely alludes to the potential shown on Whatever. There's the bawdy bum rush of “Still Take You Home,” angular dance number "Fake Tales of San Francisco" and the brusque, hipster-slaying "Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong But...." The group can do more than bash out chords, too, as slow-burners like "Mardy Bum," "A Certain Romance" and the languid "Riot Van" inform us. "From the Ritz To the Rubble" is easily Arctic Monkey’s greatest achievement -- a blistering song best used to incite mutiny or vent teenage angst.

And this is a subject the band is more than familiar with, having only exited their teens about 30 seconds ago. Turner, the group's lyricist, is fantastic at capturing the ennui brewing in all young folks with no money to spend and nothing to do. His lyrics call to mind master wordsmith Morrissey if he were growing up in 2006, significantly less depressed and craving the female form. In "View From the Afternoon" he considers the perils of drunken e-mailing ("You can pour your heart out around 3 o' clock / When the 2 for 1's undone the writers block"). Turner loves jabbing back at scenesters on songs like "Fake Tales" ("You're not from New York City, you're from Rotherham / So get off the bandwagon, and put down the handbook.") and "Perhaps Vampires"("All you people are vampires / All your stories are stale / Though you pretend to stand by us / Though you're certain we'll fail.")

When not scrapping with bouncers or discussing his night at the pub, Turner often has some form of romance on his mind. Sometimes he settles for what's available ("Still Take You Home"); sometimes he's singing his most enticing come-ons ("Dancing Shoes"). He even lowers his cards and shows his tender side on the pleading "Mardy Bum," trying to convince his better half to stick around. Turner's wordplay is concrete and arresting, much like a friend relaying his past three months in the form of an album. For his first record -- and even if this was his fifth -- Turner shows a great deal of promise as a writer.

However, Whatever is not without its flaws. Being the Arctic Monkeys’ first full-length foray, the group shows promise and room for improvement. Besides the absurd title, "You Probably Couldn't See For the Lights, But You Were Staring Straight At Me," is incredibly amateurish and skip-worthy. The combination of massive power chords and little backbeat portions on "The View From the Afternoon" is disjointed and cumbersome. A few tracks (like "I Bet" and "Still Take You Home") are unnervingly similar in style. Nothing major; these are the earmarks of a band still coming into its own.

Right now, the Arctic Monkeys have the distinction of being bigger than The Beatles in the UK (sales-wise, at least). It's difficult to say if they'll have even remotely the same impact on this side of the pond. Considering how fickle and unpredictable America has been in the past for British bands, they might end up pulling a T. Rex and maintain only a cult status. But the possibility for a full-scale takeover is there. They're capable enough to write the catchy, hook-laden track ready to lodge itself in America’s ears. Even if they don't, Arctic Monkeys have made a surprising and solid debut with Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not. I hope their contrary nature won't disagree with me.

I Got Love For

ATOM 0.3

Establish Contact:

Last posts


Add to your Kinja digest