Several weeks ago, I made a promise in my review of Beast Moans by Swan Lake. I said that I would eventually check out the main bands of the artists that formed together to form the super-group. These bands are The New Pornographers, Frog Eyes, Sunset Rubdown, Wolf Parade, and Destroyer. Seeing as they are five bands that likely have a similar Canadian Indy Rock feel, I think that both my readers and I would get tired of them if I reviewed them all in a row. Thus I have decided to spread the reviews out over an extended period of time in this column’s first sub-series, which I like to call the Canada Collective. This week I bring you the first in the Canada Collective series, Destroyer’s Rubies by Destroyer.
I don’t really know much about Destroyer; I had never heard of them until I listened to Beast Moans. Even after listening to Destroyer’s Rubies, I feel like I barely understand them. What I have gathered in my brief research is that they are a pet project of Dan Bejar. Formed in 1995, they didn’t really have a consistent lineup until Rubies, their seventh album, was released in 2006. I find this interesting seeing as Beast Moans was also released that year. I actually guessed, without looking, that they were made the same year seconds after starting my first listen of Rubies; Bejar’s influence in Beast Moans sticks out like a sore thumb.
From what I can tell from Rubies and Beast Moans, Bejar has a very distinct style. He is exactly like Johnny Cash, Freddy Mercury, and Fred Schneider (B-52’s singer) in that his voice immediately recognizable. Not only is the sound of his voice very memorable, but his vocal styling is impossible to miss. This is because he uses a lot of what I like to describe as a “melodic rap”.
“Melodic rap” is hard to describe but easily recognized. It is not rapping nor is it singing. It feels like he is just speaking the lyrics yet at the same time he isn’t. He varies his pitch and tone in a very melodic way without sounding like he is singing. The rhythm of his speech varies drastically, suddenly speeding up and slowing down. The total effect feels like his words are tumbling over themselves, like a wave crashing on shore. His control of vocal rhythm rivals that of a rapper, hence the term “melodic rap”. It is a really interesting and enjoyable style.
Enhancing the power of his vocal style is his lyrics. Everything he says is deliberately poetic and cryptic. It is as though he is constantly spurting out profound wisdom, though what he says makes little to no sense. The album starts off with the lines “dueling cyclones jackknife. They got eyes for your wife and the blood in her heart. Cast myself towards infinity, trust me I had my reasons. Had a dress for every season, it was worth it”. It sounds profound as hell coming out of his mouth but does it actually mean anything? I kind of doubt it, though it is hard to shake the feeling that there is some profound truth hidden deep in his words. He also is a huge fan of phrases like “your precious American underground” or “your beautiful European Oils”. Is this a commentary on society at large or a load of bull? Who knows…
These lyrics sound absolutely fantastic when heard through the lens of Bejar’s “melodic rap”. Like a poet he is able to convey the beauty of the English language. He shows us the wonderful sounds that are contained in each word. It is this fact that makes me feel like most of his lyrics don’t mean anything deep; he says what he says because it sounds good. On the other hand, they could actually have a deep meaning in which case he might be one of the best lyric-writers of all time.
The music that accompanies him is best described as Indy Rock. It prominently features piano, drums, and both electric and acoustic guitar. Sometimes it is fairly simple while other times it features some really complex parts. It really fits Bejar’s vocals; the music and vocals complement each other. The music is really enjoyable and would make a great album by itself, but it is the vocals that really makes Rubies shine.
Now onto the tracks. The album suffers a bit from weaker B-Side syndrome, though not by much. Your Blood, European Oils, and Looter’s Follies are really strong songs that form the core of the A-side. However, in my opinion, the real stars of the album are Painter in Your Blood and Rubies. Painter starts off slow, establishing a great chorus and melody, before picking up the pace towards the end. That moment is one of my favorite parts of the album. Rubies however is the crown jewel of the album, hence the album title. It is a nine and a half minute epic that features the best “melodic rap” on the album. The song just creates this amazing energy and tone that just carries throughout the entire album. The song sums of the album in general, much like Useful Chamber summed up the Dirty Projector’s Bitte Orca. Rubies is featured below.
Earlier I claimed that Bejar’s influence in Beast Moans sticks out like a sore thumb. This is because several songs on the album sound exactly like a more dreamy, noisy, psychedelic Destroyer song. A Venue Called Rubella and Widow’s Walk would sound exactly like a Destroyer song if they were cleaned up a bit. The Freedom doesn’t even need to be cleaned up; it could have been ripped straight from Rubies. I now affectionately refer to Rubies as a non-drugged-up Beast Moans. This is not a bad thing however, Beast Moans is one of my favorite albums of all time. Also, thanks to the other members of Swan Lake, the rest of the album sounds almost nothing like Rubies.
Destroyer’s most recent album, Kaputt, is supposedly really good. It received a lot of critical acclaim; it was a finalist for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize but lost to Arcade Fire’s Suburbs. I don’t know why I picked up Destroyer’s Rubies and not Kaputt, though I am glad I did. Rubies is an excellent album that deserves recognition. It was a wonderful introduction to what I am sure is a wonderful band. I plan on following Destroyer and getting more of their albums in the future (after the Canadian Collective is complete). I will start off by seeing them live when they come to Philly next month, I am sure the show will be most excellent.