Sunday, January 1, 2006

Records In Review: Destroyer--Thief

Well, I did say a few months back that I'd be delving into the New Pornographers' and associated members' back catalogues, didn't I? Of course I did. So be quiet and listen, both of you.

Destroyer is the vee-hickle of NP occasional songwriter Dan Bejar. In the Pornographers, he's the indispensable, hippy counterpoint to mainman Carl Newman's tightly-wound and razor-sharp economy. On his own, he's a sardonic, occasionally arch folk troubadour whose music contains echoes of early '70s Elton John and David Bowie, among others (N.B. to any Bowie freaks: I don't wanna hear it), although much less presentational. Thief (1999) is his first full-fledged band album, and it features NPer John Collins on bass and Jason Zumpano, from that band whose name escapes me, on keyboards.

I've been flipping and flopping on this one for a while, but my Considered And Rational Judgment is that Thief would make an extremely good ep; at album length, the static pacing combined with Bejar's nasal recitativo starts to grate. On a song-by-song basis, the material's very good. I particularly like opener "The Temple," which has that EJ country-blues pace and a catchy melody. Bejar does craft some nice vocal melodies, which you might at first overlook 'cos he's very wordy and his singing style very percussive/punctuated. "Mercy" and "To The Heart Of The Sun On The Back Of The Vulture, I'll Go" (I kid you not) are also standouts; on both, the folky thing is balanced by a '90s low-fi approach which works really well.

The rest of the album could use some editing. By the time I got to "Queen of Languages" (track 8 of 13), I was itching for a change of pace and, frankly, for the Pornographers to show up and put some foot to gas pedal. I can't help thinking that this music could have been better realized. It needed to be taken farther away from its folky, solo-performer roots, so as to let the band stretch out more. That said, it does have a lot of charm, which shows well on upbeat tracks like "The Way Of Perpetual Roads." There's a few instrumental/ambient tracks that are nice changes of pace, if unspectacular. I haven't been able to find a lyric sheet, but most of the songs appear to be humorous digs at the music industry or the self-importance of pop singers (as in the title track). They're abstract enough not to be annoying.

Thief probably won't stop me from picking up some of the more recent Destroyer albums, but based on this I prefer Bejar in his other, better-known band, where he doesn't have to be the centre of attention and where his material's interpreted with more gusto. Cautiously recommended.

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