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.

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