DESTROYER – Trouble In Dreams (2008)

Destroyer - Trouble In Dreams Trouble In Dreams is an album that I’d be hard-pressed to recommend to someone without knowing their musical tastes in detail. There’s a lot of material here that could be potentially off-putting to people, be it in the song-to-song musical unpredictability, or through any aspect of Dan Bejar’s presence (the totality of which is peculiar, to say the least). In many ways, Trouble In Dreams is the most peculiar indie album of the year so far, rivaling Xiu Xiu’s Women As Lovers – the fact that it wears a guise of familiarity only makes it stranger.

Bejar may be best known for his work with The New Pornographers (and more recently, with Swan Lake), but Destroyer is his brainchild, so it’s unsurprising that he’s the most integral part of the equation here, more than anywhere else. What makes Destroyer so intriguing (or possibly nauseating, depending on your point of view) is Bejar himself. He treats his role of vocalist as a more theatrical one than a musical one, an outlet to let his bizarre but fascinating lyrics unfold with a gleeful whimsy.

Nowhere is this more apparent than on the album’s centerpiece, Shooting Rockets (from the Desk of Night’s Ape). Lyrically, the song is a sprawling beat-soliloquy in which Bejar ruminates on everything. And I do mean everything. Sometimes, it’s more personal, like his role in Swan Lake (“saw you in Swan Lake, you were great/saw you down in Strathcona Square, devouring an After Eight/who cares! I didn’t mean it…”), or a dismissal of some wayward self-reflection (“it’s not that I quit/it’s not that my poems are shit…). Other times, it’s more ambiguous in nature; musically, a wailing blues-rock electric guitar permeates the entire thing, like a coffeehouse patron excitedly interjecting, “preach on!”, while quiet piano lines trip and fall into unexpected momentums.

While the above statement might seem a bit too vivid for the uninitiated, it should be said that Trouble In Dreams is the kind of album whose music inevitably conjures up images. The song Rivers is a perfect example, sounding like a musical collage of, well, different kinds of rivers. First you have slow, lazy ones, portrayed by the expansive, pounding piano at the beginning, and then there’s more powerful ones with their fierce currents (as portrayed by the crashing drums and Bejar’s excited yelps in the final chorus of the song). And finally, there’s the smaller tributaries, drifting off to places unnoticed (as exemplified by the final sections of the song, as it fades out).

As expressive as Bejar’s music is, his lyrics are more so. At times, he’s playful, as in Blue Flower (“blue flower, blue flame/a woman by another name/is not a woman…”), and other times, he displays a lucid anger that’s a welcome change from all the faux-angst that’s polluting the airwaves (as in The State, in which lyrics like “the state cut off my arms, the state tore my eyes with her nails/he’ll just put on this earth a bad wind to trash the sails” are delivered with alarming dexterity). Despite the misgivings Bejar expressed in Shooting Rockets, his poems are anything but shit.

Taking all of this in to consideration, it kind of makes sense that the song Foam Hands was chosen to promote the album back in December of 2007. It’s the most accessible track, the song most likely to attract potential listeners who revere The New Pornographers’ latest album. When contrasted with the rest of the album, Foam Hands isn’t simple; it’s merely uncomplicated. The instrumentation is sparse, but still unconventional for a pop song, favoring low toms in the drums and muted, ever-shifting electric guitar (and the occasional piano chord). And while Bejar’s lyrics are less wordy here, they’re as elusive as anything else on the album.

While I am admittedly not as familiar with the work of Destroyer as I perhaps could be (considering the band’s first album was released back in 1996), I don’t think it would be overstatement on my part to say that Trouble In Dreams is more rewarding than the newest work by both Swan Lake and The New Pornographers. Bejar’s idiosyncrasies make him every bit as fascinating as John Darnielle or Jamie Stewart. Again, not everyone will like Trouble In Dreams (as not everyone likes The Mountain Goats and/or Xiu Xiu), but those who do will end up spending time trying to convert those who don’t.



One Response to “DESTROYER – Trouble In Dreams (2008)”

  1. […] So, Enemy Mine is the second album by Swan Lake, and, like many sophomore albums, it doesn’t reach the same level of quality that its predecessor (Beast Moans) did. That album perfectly blended together a mix of rich pop with weird, jagged clusters of noise. Enemy Mine, on a structural level, functions in much the same way; however, most of the music feels strangely empty. Granted, strangely empty is still something, but it’s certainly not whatI was expecting. There’s nothing on the album that approaches the otherworldly beauty of Shooting Rockets, for example (a song which Bejar expanded on last year’s excellent Destroyer album, Trouble In Dreams). […]

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