Destroyer, Nine Albums In, Remains A Singular Band, Plays Monday at Great American Music Hall
|The answer, my friend, is blowing in my hair|
In the past ten years or so, there's been a proliferation of "bands" that are essentially one person, and whoever accompanies him or her on an album/tour. Perhaps it's a way for performers to "distance" themselves from being pigeonholed by a particular identity or concept -- not that there's anything wrong with that.
With Destroyer's Dan Bejar, it's something far simpler. When asked whether Destroyer is a true band, a concept, or a collective, Bejar affirms: "A band." He was "mightily inspired the American indie four-track movement," he says, the DIY dimension, where anyone in a bedroom or basement could be a self-contained "combo," but he "didn't want it to be just 'my name,' which could give the impression that I was a 'singer-songwriter' type, which I had no interest in being."
The membership may be fluid at times, from album to album, but Destroyer was meant to be, and is, a true band. Its ninth disc, the recent Kaputt, is most definitely the end result of a group effort, with Bejar as -- naturally -- director.
Like many Destroyer albums, Kaputt sounds both timeless and out of (another) time -- not dated but not, like so much other music, identifiable as being of "now." 2004's Your Blues in particular sounds like a collection of demos for a great lost/unreleased album by an iconoclast like John Cale or Kevin Ayers. There's a reason for that: Bejar, a child of the '70s, maintains that "you draw upon what you heard from the time you're born and onward."
His family was musical and his sister's record collection planted the seeds for his appreciation of the history of rock music, from the sleek, angst-laden UK rockin' wave(s) of Echo & the Bunnymen and The Cure to David Bowie, Roxy Music, Kevin Ayers, and (especially) Syd Barrett, the erratically brilliant/brilliantly erratic prime mover behind Pink Floyd mk. 1. The last four share a commonality: bringing a progressive, flexible, and/or avant-garde approach to concise rock-and-roll songwriting.
"Barrett's songs seem to be coming from a rare place, unique unto themselves," Bejar says. "[His] words and melody followed a [unique] line. Like [Ayers, Bowie, and Eno], my songs have an approach or structure that could be seen as 'progressive' [in the sense of the "progressive rock" of the '70s] but are songs," as opposed to 25-to-40-minute conceptual extravaganzas. (The latter were, alas, prevalent in the pre-punk '70s -- ask an "older" listener about Yes's Tales From Topographic Oceans.) Destroyer songs are truly grand, but don't crumble under the weight of their grandeur. That's the American indie ethos making itself felt.
While Bejar talks freely about where his musical inspiration comes from, he's a bit more taciturn about whence his actual songs emanate. "I've never really tried to write a song," he says. "I can't write for a concept... the songs just exist and then the challenge is just to make sense of them musically." But he did have a concrete idea of the overall sound, the ambience, of Kaputt. "The instrumentation was always etched in stone, I thought... but it wasn't just the instruments: it was people I knew and wanted to play on the record. [And] I was listening to a lot of jazz and instrumental ambient music." Bejar namechecks some themes "alluded to" on the album: '80s Miles Davis, '90s Gil Evans, Last Tango in Paris -- the latter's soundtrack rich with an exotic commingling of French salon music and feverish Argentine jazz, composed and played by saxophonist Gato Barbieri. Muy simpatico.
While Destroyer's previous albums evoke the whimsical, art-y prog-pop and glitter rock of the early 1970s, Kaputt brings to mind another epoch: 1976-1982, the heyday of the soft-focus, seductive, jazz-inflected pop of Sade and Steely Dan, as well as the mellower side of the semi-decadent danceable grooves of Chic and Bryan Ferry. Call it the soundtrack to Bejar's remake of the film The Last Days of Disco. "Wasting your days chasing girls, alright / Chasing cocaine through the back rooms of the world all night," he sings, not with heavy-handed judgment but rather with semi-detached reflection. The collective We want to party, but don't think about the price to be paid. Until it's too late, usually.
Destroyer is touring the U.S., 90% the same Destroyer that conjured Kaputt: J.P. Carter, Joseph Shabason, Nicolas Bragg, David Carswell, and Pete Bourne, with the vocals of Larisa Loyva for the shows. "Of all the Destroyer albums, because of [the other musicians] this one has the 'least' [instrumental] input from me," Bejar explains. Like the man said: Destroyer is a band, a rather singular one at that, and don't let anybody tell you different.