City of Daughters • Thief • Streethawk: A Seduction
For years, I have heard of Destroyer as this brilliant one-man songwriting machine. Well, that’s sort of correct. He is a songwriting machine. Dan Bejar started off as a solo act, but slowly brought in more members, a rhythm section to add a little depth to his sometimes brilliant and sometimes bizarre songs, and David Bowie speak/singing. Merge Records has focused on the band years on the reissues of Destroyer’s second, third, and fourth albums; City of Daughters, Thief, and Streethawk: A Seduction.
Filled with strange noises and lyrics that could be construed as poetry if they weren’t so nonsensical, Destroyer’s second album, City of Daughters is a scantily-produced album that sounds like they recorded everything in one take, especially the track “You Were So Cruel.” It starts off as a duet, and the two voices are nowhere near together until about 30 seconds in.
“Space Race” inserts a one-time electronic blip interlude in the middle of the acoustics, while “Emax I,” “Emax II,” and “Emax III” are minute-long gems for Dadaists. Song titles like “Comments on the World as Will,” “Rereading the Marble Faun,” and “War on Jazz II or How I Learned to Love the War on Jazz,” highlight the fact that Bejar seems to be just throwing random words and phrases to songs. Once I got to the lyrics, I realized that those were just as strange as the song titles. At least the music starts getting a little more polished after this.
Thief starts with the pop gem “Destroyer’s the Temple,” which I could actually hear on Top 40 radio, if Top 40 radio had a soul. “M.E.R.C.I.” is the one song out of all three albums in which I instantly pictured what I think the video would look like. The ambient drone instantly put me in a slow-moving cloud with Bejar saying “mercy” as if it was filtered through a Wal-Mart speaker system. Lyrically, Bejar is still his spacey self with lines like, “In the theater of impatience, records cause culture/ As records break records on the back of the vulture/ I’ll go into the heart of the sun,” from one of the worst song titles in history: “To the Heart of the Sun on the Back of the Vulture, I’ll Go.”
The fourth album, Streethawk: A Seduction, starts off as a much more focused and cohesive sound on the excellent pop opener “Streethawk I.” Then, it goes into a sprawling seven-minute mini-epic, “The Bad Ants,” which has three separate movements. Although the music is more cohesive than the previous albums, the song starts to languish after the second movement. “The Crossover” and “The Very Modern Dance” are quirky pop songs that would go perfectly on college radio.
“Virgin with a Memory” has the best combination of clever and obtuse lyrics. Bejar sings “Now is your chance to be free of all those favorite bands you ditched for one that’s grander: No Use For A Name to the Make-Up — It’s all the same.” Then he comes back with “In love with our peers — We tasted life with the stars/ Anticlimactic as Mars was, still… A red earth with no way of knowing this sliver colossus exists just to be growing.” Even with lyrics like this, Streethawk: A Seduction is the most accessible of the three and the one that I will certainly be coming back to.
These three reissued albums are the perfect way to get to know Destroyer. You instantly begin to see Dan Bejar’s evolution musically, from the rough takes of City of Daughters to the quirk-pop of Streethawk: A Seduction. Bejar’s lyrics can frustrate with their head-shaking meaninglessness, but he also has some gems. If you’ve never heard Destroyer, skip City of Daughters and go for the other two.