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Destroyer - Your Blues

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Artist: Destroyer

Album: Your Blues

Label: Merge

Review date: Mar. 8, 2004

Perhaps in response to the tepid reception to 2002’s This Night, or simply in an effort avoid creative stagnation, Your Blues finds Destroyer’s Daniel Bejar tossing out the rock band format entirely, in favor of a more intimate, acoustically-based approach. Aside from Bejar, the only musicians on the album are “JC/DC” (New Pornographers bassist/producer John Collins and the Smugglers’ guitarist David Carswell), who also co-produced the first three Destroyer albums. Here they man the synthesizers (the only instruments on the album other than acoustic guitar), creating a lush orchestral backdrop for Bejar’s acoustic strumming. Despite what would seem to be drastic changes in instrumentation and style, Your Blues is surprisingly similar to the albums that preceded it: whatever style Bejar chooses to work in, his own idiosyncratic approach to songwriting and arrangement seems to dominate, relegating all other variables to a minimal level of importance.

At the outset of Your Blues, things don’t seem to bode to well for the acoustic-synth marriage: “Notorious Lightning” begins with Bejar solo on guitar, pouring out his usual stream of verbose lyrics, only to be rudely and incongruously interrupted by a buzzing synthetic orchestra. The effects are unpleasantly jarring, and the synths seem tacked-on and gratuitous, not playing any discernable role in the arrangement as a whole. Fortunately, the rest of the album more or less avoids this problem, as the synthesized orchestral arrangements are more subtly integrated at strategic moments, heightening the overall effect of Bejar’s songs, and defining the album’s unique “orch-coustic” aesthetic.

At its best moments Your Blues pulls out all the stops and opts for intense orchestral bombast. “New Ways of Living” deploys a synth bagpipe-and-snare drum attack that Matmos would envy, while “Don’t Become the Thing You Hated” features a startlingly beautiful orchestral bridge that would bring tears to Scott Walker’s eyes. Such intense moments, however, are few and far between, as though Bejar prefers to tease us with tastes of high drama that most songs here only hint at. Their paucity, however, is perhaps for the best, as much of their effect derives from their contrast to the album’s more restrained moments.

Bejar’s songwriting is as sharp as ever, and the precise arrangements are more reminiscent of the tightly-wound compositions of 2001’s Streethawk than the meandering epics of This Night. The similarities, however, are slight enough that one can hardly accuse Bejar of repeating himself. Your Blues is a bold step in a new direction, risking over-the-top theatricality, but with its feet planted firmly on solid ground. Perhaps the only regrettable thing about the album is its instrumental limitation. While the synth orchestras create a mood all their own, one can only imagine the power and expansiveness that an actual orchestra could add to the proceedings. With Your Blues, Bejar and Co. have proven that they can do a lot with a little; for the next act, here’s hoping someone loans them the Berlin Philharmonic.

By Michael Cramer

Other Reviews of Destroyer

This Night

Notorious Lightning and Other Works

Destroyer's Rubies

We'll Build Them A Golden Bridge

Trouble in Dreams

Streethawk: A Seduction / Thief / City of Daughters


Read More

View all articles by Michael Cramer

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