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Destroyer - Streethawk: A Seduction / Thief / City of Daughters

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Artist: Destroyer

Album: Streethawk: A Seduction / Thief / City of Daughters

Label: Merge

Review date: Apr. 21, 2010

I was introduced to Destroyer in 2001, when Streethawk: A Seduction was first released. A friend mentioned on instant messenger, as we sat at post-college jobs designed to burn off some time, “Hey, you like Pavement; you should listen to this.” I was skeptical. Pavement, and specifically Steve Malkmus’ absurdism, had defined a large part of my high school and college musical experience, the benchmark by which I judged all other attempts to blend odd pop melodies and weird lyrics and weird hooks (a.k.a. the mass of mid-1990s indie rock) — the standard, really, by which I had judged all music at the time.

You see, I had been fooled before. In the wake of Pavement’s success, the eruption of Fall-ish hooks and abstract lyrics was monolithic, and most second and third generation Pavement pretenders were awful, missing the charm of Malkmus’ lyrics and the creativity of the melodies, instead replacing it with sterile word choices and anemic guitar lines. “Sounds like Pavement” soon became synonymous with “shitty,” hence my skepticism. Fool me once, once bitten, etc.

Despite that initial introduction, Destroyer has, in the nine years since, come to eclipse Pavement (and Guided by Voices and Silver Jews) in my mind’s eye’s indie rock pantheon.

There’s a reason why Dan Bejar’s weird, poetic absurdism had grabbed me and continues to infect my mind more so than Steve Malkmus’ or Bob Pollard’s or David Berman’s. Malkmus always seemed ironically detached – more interested in clever turns of phrase than in being meaningfully absurd – which is fine in youth, but as I grow older, I find I want something more substantial. His solo work seems aimed at correcting this deficiency — more about people, more story oriented, more narrative songs. Unfortunately, as he got more emotional, he got less absurd, losing that facet that made Pavement more than just another indie rock band. Pollard’s problem has always been his lack of an internal editor, and thus no quality control. It’s difficult to cull the good out of the expansive universe his brain produces, like someone threw 1000 copies Finnegan’s Wake into a blender, and one song – even a good song – comes to mean the same as another. Heat death — the evening out of all. With Berman, he was able to produce meaningful poetry in his songs, but was restricted by his songwriting and range. His songs were never really able to carry the weight of their meaning. “All my favorite singers couldn’t sing.”

Bejar, though, was able to somehow combine all these things together into a meaningful whole: the absurdism of Malkmus and Pollard, their melodies and hook, the meaningful poetics of Berman, but more so. More complete, more actual. With Destroyer, Bejar creates a coherent world for the Destroyer persona to inhabit, in the same pleasing way Battlestar Galactica or Tim and Eric does for their characters. Cinco, what could have been a throwaway gag, has become over the course of five seasons a central concept to their world, with a real culture that surrounds it and has influence. Destroyer is involved in the same exercise but in a different medium: world-building. Not a world in which there is necessarily a narrative to tell, but rather one in which patterns are created and fleshed out, a world in which connections are made between songs and albums, where characters and words repeat, and repeat often enough that they gain meaning with each repetition. In Destroyer, there is no clever detachment because the Destroyer persona is so all-consuming. It’s not hyperbole to say (and this isn’t meant to diminish the quality of the others I’ve mentioned) that Bejar is easily the best lyricist around today, and it’s good that his early albums are being reissued so that more people can see the first steps that lead to Rubies and Trouble in Dreams.

By Andrew Beckerman

Other Reviews of Destroyer

This Night

Your Blues

Notorious Lightning and Other Works

Destroyer's Rubies

We'll Build Them A Golden Bridge

Trouble in Dreams


Read More

View all articles by Andrew Beckerman

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