“Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of worlds.“- J. Robert Oppenheimer, at the Trinity Test.
Thank goodness for a world in which we have Dan Bejar. Of course, in reference to the above quotation, Bejar witnessing his music travel out into the world surely isn’t as dramatic or as earth shattering as Oppenheimer’s realization at the culmination of his own scientific work on the Manhattan Project. But just as the nuclear bomb changed (and somewhat destroyed) the world in which we live, so too does Dan Bejar’s work change (and destroy) the musical worlds we inhabit. For over ten years and now eight albums, Bejar as Destroyer has been an unrelentingly unique voice in independent music. While he may call his style of music “European Blues,” such a complex series of songs, sounds and lyrics cannot be packaged so neatly. Even so, fans of Bejar know that they can always rely on his inimitable approach to the world of pop music, a world that he destroys bit by bit with every album release. Trouble in Dreams, something I’m sure that Oppenheimer had after 1945, is Bejar’s eighth studio album, one that continues to push the boundaries, astound the ears, exercise the mind and confirm my belief that Dan Bejar is my musical hero.
Thank goodness I discovered Destroyer. I first heard the band with Streethawk: A Seduction and found myself staggering at the scope of Bejar’s work. Ever since then, each succeeding album has been an anticipated gift, a new treat to unwrap and unfold. Part of the reason for that is due to Bejar’s impeccable sense of composition, writing gloriously majestic and dramatic music that can at times seem more `pop opera’ than rock music. In this way, the usual Bowie comparisons are apt. The other reason for the unfolding is due to Bejar’s knack for incredibly layered and dense literary lyrics. Words are presented in more of a prose form than in a song-like poetic style. He’s unlike Bowie in most respects (at least later Bowie) in that the words are cohesive and mean something, versus the Duke’s magnetic poetry experiments. However, they don’t quite get to `storytelling’ as there is no central plot or through-line. Bejar himself claims, “I can’t string a 4-minute country song together about what happens to Poncho.” The closest thing Bejar comes to, as I referenced in my review of Bejar’s last brilliant album, Rubies, is the prose poems of T.S. Eliot. How’s that for company?
Thank goodness I have to be somewhat brief. To tell you the truth, I’d probably need another month (at least) and another 2500 words to be able to completely comprehend everything going on in Trouble in Dreams. This explains why there’s an entire wiki devoted to the music of Destroyer. Someday an English or Music student in Vancouver will write a thesis on Destroyer, if they haven’t already. Within this album, Bejar continues the trend of layering in thematic phrasings, repeated imagery and references to his own past work. Whereas Rubies went back to the Your Blues well often, Trouble in Dreams seems to revel in This Night, though not exclusively. Bejar opens the album with “Blue Flower / Blue Flame,” a song that in both name and acoustic style seem to reference his most recent side project (I think he has about 80 of them by now), Hello, Blue Roses, then later in the album gives a `shout out’ to another side project, Swan Lake. I’ve mentioned before that you’d need Cliff’s Notes to get most of what Bejar is doing lyrically in these songs, and that’s not even touching the musical references yet!
Thank goodness Dan Bejar kept this permanent band. Bejar decided with his last album that the lineup he formed for Rubies was going to be the definitive and final version of Destroyer. Let me tell you, these guys are amazing. Ted Bois’ pianos and keyboards add somewhat of a holy and reverential quality to the albums while Nicolas Bragg’s guitars flow like paint onto a canvas. The band can sound downright poppy and ebullient, as on “Dark Leaves Form a Thread,” and then within seconds sound like a bar-blues band in “The State,” especially with lines like “the state exposed our hearts / And wounded me, gave me this bad knee, tore down my baby’s favorite tree.” “Foam Hands” was the choice to spread around as a teaser mp3 and they couldn’t have chosen a better track. It’s the easiest bridge to Destroyer’s earlier work, the most accessible, and has a sing-along series of lines in the title and “I didn’t know what time it was at all.” But my favorite songs on Trouble in Dreams are “My Favorite Year” and “Shooting Rockets (From the Desk of Night’s Ape).” The former’s bassline, provided by Tim Loewen, and the dark atmosphere of the song, make it sound like a Joy Division cover. Some of the lyrics, thanks to Bejar’s rapid-fire delivery, are incomprehensible, but the song’s appeal is hard to deny. The latter is the centerpiece, at eight minutes the longest song on the album, having formerly appeared in a radically different form at the end of the Swan Lake collaboration. Whereas the Swan Lake version was edgy and avant-garde, the new version plants itself firmly in the `Destroyer’ camp, more fluid and straightforward, if such a word could be used for anything Bejar puts his hands to.
Thank goodness for independent music labels like Merge. If only the world of television were as free thinking and open-minded as the music world. Every year I get more and more frustrated as I see great shows being canceled for reasons that can only amount to money, or the capacity of the minds of most of Americans, reading at a fifth-grade level average. Because Firefly and Carnivále challenged our conceptions of genre and plot, with hybridized conceptions and slowly unfolding mysteries, most of America didn’t get it, and they were given the axe. But music is different, and Bejar’s voice, as polarizing as it may be, has a home. The music of Destroyer is something I will continue to champion, and Trouble in Dreams is simply the continuing work of a brilliant musical and literary mind, while not so simply understood. Most pop music is one-dimensional to the point of being completely absorbed in one sitting. Bejar gives his listeners much more bang for their buck, as we have to devote time and effort into every release for a full appreciation. Thank goodness for Destroyer.
David Bowie- Hunky Dory
Lou Reed- Transformer
Le Loup- The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly
MP3: “Foam Hands”