"You've got to stay critical or die," Dan Bejar exclaimed on 2001's brilliant "Streethawk: A Seduction." On that Misra album, Bejar's craft had reached its pinnacle. Where "Streethawk" was full of calculated drama, the band's 2002 Merge debut, "This Night," was packed with too much music that teetered between confusion and chaos. Destroyer, for me, is all about the drama; it's all about the emotion bleeding through in Bejar's voice and his brilliant, at times bizarre, lyrics. "Your Blues," their second album on Merge, turns the drama up a notch and concentrates its focus.
The album opens in classic Destroyer style. Bejar's acoustic guitar complemented by a piano, but the keyboards that sound like a chorus foreshadow what this album is about. Strings and tympanis bring this song to its climax. The almost-'80s-hair-metal lead guitar could only be pulled off by Bejar as he sings, "And someone's going to fall before someone goes free!" There's a quality to this song that reminds me of the sweeping orchestrations in the climactic moments of epic Hollywood dramas. It's brilliant.
This penchant for Hollywood endings is all over "Your Blues." Each song is like its own instant in the drama of Bejar's life. Some of them are poignant, some are comedic, and others are peculiar flashbacks into his past. Many artists do this very thing, but the way they are pieced together is what makes this album so great. The title track starts off a capella, but eventually gains steam with icy keyboards and muted trumpets. As he sings, "Lord knows I've been trying" over and over again, the vocals echo like they're in a wind tunnel. Then, a piano rises up from the murky depths of the melancholy music like a single ray of light piercing through overcast skies. Each chord punches the point home. This is an incredibly moving track, but the true magnificence is how the next song, "New Ways of Living," counteracts the former with exuberance and heightened theatrics. "A dragon needs room to run, run, run, run," he exclaims, as Irish-tinged violins back military-style snare rolls. Staccato-laden piano relays images of royalty; I imagine Bejar donning an intricately jeweled crown with a hunter green cloak over his shoulder. This whole song plays out like a fairytale. High-pitched keyboards, which were standard in a thousand '80s ballads, are put to use as the icing on this fantasy. This is the song that plays when the credits roll after some elfin adventure where the monster is slain and the hero has saved the day. It sounds cheesy, I know, but somehow it works. Only Dan Bejar could pull this off.
I picture a crazy old storyteller acting out every word of "Mad Foxes." He is creeping around, low to the ground, going overboard with his facial expressions and big eyes. He lives to tell stories to the kids and nobody in town does it better. "Berlin is for lovers, it will never fall but you can and you will. Any hope for love can be killed when death waits for us silently to be free," he warns. Still in bard-mode, it's as if he was hurt early in his life and has never got over it. He's that somewhat crotchety, somewhat adorable old man that is always bad-mouthing love but longing for it secretly at the same time. Bejar's whispered vocals only add to the effect of this imagery.
If you've ever watched a half-dozen Woody Allen movies in succession, you should have a pretty good idea what listening to "Your Blues" is like. Allen is a quirky, comedic genius who covers a variety of storylines and plots, but his signature all over it. Bejar does the same thing. For instance, a harp is the basis for "From Oakland to Warsaw," along with a booming kettle drum roll and over-the-top horns and synthesizers. Only Destroyer could base an indie rock song around a harp and get away with it. As diverse as all these songs are, they are all held together by the personality of Dan Bejar.
The Who wrote rock operas that I thought were totally lame, but now Dan Bejar is writing indie rock operas. I am sold. I would buy tickets. Put on the show, Dan, and people will come. He is like a great actor who finally takes his turn at directing on this album. He's still the principal star in front of the camera, but its his work behind the scenes that makes him such a genius. 8/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)