This Night (Merge)

Wherein Dan Bejar, Destroyer's sole permanent fixture, stretches his legs. The idea of Bejar tinkering with his formula in any way makes some of us nervous because his last two albums have been flat-out masterpieces. Received wisdom has it that one must either grow or perish, though, and so This Night takes the brave leap from pop-in-miniature into roomier, more expansive structures.

It works, sometimes beautifully, re-establishing Bejar as one of the best and most original songwriters to have come up in recent years, though his newfound urge to toy with his timing may mean a few listenings' worth of getting used to the new surroundings for those who've already been converted (by last year's flawless Streethawk: A Seduction or 2000's brilliant Thief). Where he once breezed through complex songs as if they were exercises, he now spends long, slow minutes lost in the threads and fringes of reverb-dripping musical backdrops, finally easing languidly into crackling-fuzz punchlines at whose arrival he and the whole band often sound shocked. Once the pace has been established, though, we find all Destroyer's wry charms firmly intact: the Bowie-drenched vocal delivery, the expert timing, the riotous self-assurance, the wonderful melodies. This Night would be a terrific album all by itself, even if it weren't for the matter of the lyrics.

But it's lyrics that separate interesting bands from great ones, and Destroyer's are about as great as they get. Like all good rock lyrics, they're poorly served by the printed page; in proper context, rest assured that they are dazzling, the sort of thing that makes you want to hush everyone in the room so no one misses the best moments. Conflating cultural criticism, self-mythology and dry wit with an almost athletic dexterity, Bejar makes something very difficult sound ridiculously easy. He knows just when to inject a little sneer into his delivery to point the listener's interpretation in the right direction ("twelve years on the east side/and still so ... house proud," he says in an indescribably effective early moment) and when to open fire ("I dug your poetry/a grave, and it felt good"). Between the sheer joy of hearing a singer who's actually got some interesting words to sing and the airy lift of the songs' great melodies, This Night's only real flaw is that it's slightly exhausting -- its fifteen songs, almost all gems, take up some 68 minutes, asking for perhaps more attention than we're generally asked to give in our accelerated age. Would that more things were thus flawed. (Destroyer opens for Calexico ["Border-Jumpers," this issue] at Off Broadway on Friday, October 25.)

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