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Destroyer - Destroyer's Rubies

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Artist: Destroyer

Album: Destroyer's Rubies

Label: Merge

Review date: Feb. 15, 2006

There's an invisible line between poetry and song lyrics that writers cross at their own peril. In his seventh full-length as Destroyer, Daniel Bejar doesn't just cross it, he dances on top of it, piling metaphor on fractured image, embedding assonance and inside jokes into even the briefest snippets. There’s no shortage of blood, however, in Bejar’s academic self-indulgence. Lines like "Dueling cyclones jackknife / They've got eyes for your wife / And the blood that lives in her heart," (from opener "Rubies") that carries you along even when you're not sure exactly what they mean. There's no time to puzzle over individual lines anyway, because the next couplet will be just as arresting, just as koan-like, just as acerbically knowing. Here's a writer who can reference Aeschylus in one song ("I was Clytemnestra on a good day / Dispensing wisdom to the uninitiated" in "3000 Flowers") then come back in the next with a nod to classic rock ("Those who love Zeppelin will soon betray Floyd / I cast off those couplets in honor of the void.") It all scans. It makes a certain kind of sense. You want to slow it down and read the footnotes, but the music carries you on.

The music, by the way, is a triumph. Gone is the MIDI solitude of Your Blues, the pick-up rock of Frog Eyes' enhanced Notorious Lightning and Other Works. Here Bejar is "in time and in space and, in other words, in a band," as he observes in "3000 Flowers," accompanied by a full-fledged and fully-capable five-man outfit: Ted Bois on keyboards, Nicolas Bragg on guitar, Tim Loewen playing bass, Scott Morgan on drums and Fisher Rose adding vibraphone and trumpet. Thus his words are sunk deep into an organic fabric of rock sounds – the Spanish-leaning, Dire Straits-recalling guitars of "Rubies," the pounded keyboards and giant riffs of "3000 Flowers," the blues-tinged piano intro of "European Oils,” the lazy and luminous jangle of "Watercolors in the Ocean." The backing makes the words real, drains them of artifice and allows them to work as pop songs despite their devious complexity.

Destroyer's Rubies is a mass of crisscrossing themes, sardonic sketches and self-lacerating putdowns, but I think one of its main ideas is the friction between life and art, the ever-present balancing act between sex and success and self-expression. Bejar says this kind of thing obliquely, if at all, using the words "blood" and "blues" as related opposites. "Blood" as far as I can tell, is life and all its distractions, while "blues" is the work itself. Yet one can't exist without the other; we are, as he has said before, always skating and dying at the same time.

So how does this tension play out? There are jabs at the critical community ("Oh, it's just your precious American Underground / and it is born of wealth / With not a writer in it" from "Rubies"), and imagined conversations with indie snobs ("Why can't you see that a life in art and a life of mimicry – it's the same thing" from "Looters' Follies"). There's also a dialogue with the elegant, difficult, ironically observed women who move in and out of his songs. Sometimes they are attracted by his work, ("Ah, look, it's no contest / Proud Mary said as she lit the fuse / I wanted you / I wanted your blues" in "Rubies"). Sometimes they are artists on their own account ("European Oils"). And sometimes, Bejar's minimalist couplets transform these women themselves into fleeting works of art ("Were you even there / Too thin, too fair, downing your third drink / standing at arm's length in the square / just off a mildly successful killing / rampage" from "Watercolors into the Ocean").

It's tempting to spend hours excavating metaphors and translating references on a record this complex and interesting, but Destroyer's Rubies also works well as pop. There's a buoyancy to "Rubies,” with its rifle-shot drums and wordless sung choruses that carries you through its nine minutes, a simple rock joy in the attack of "3000 Flowers," a twisted love anthem in "Painter in your Pocket" that doesn't need to be analyzed to be enjoyed. Ambitious, well-crafted and devilishly entertaining, Destroyer's Rubies is thinking man's pop…even when you don't feel like thinking about it all the time.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Destroyer

This Night

Your Blues

Notorious Lightning and Other Works

We'll Build Them A Golden Bridge

Trouble in Dreams

Streethawk: A Seduction / Thief / City of Daughters


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View all articles by Jennifer Kelly

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