Dan Bejar is a poet, a philosopher, and quite possibly a madman.
“Destroyer’s Rubies,” the sixth proper LP from Bejar and his stellar art-rock outfit, Destroyer, has all the things that make a typical Bejar record great: plaintive acoustic guitars, cryptic lyrics, and a heavy dose of melodrama.
It’s good to see Bejar return to the formula that endeared him to legions of depressed hipsters. In recent years, he’s been moonlighting with some of his Canadian compatriots in the decidedly more upbeat indie-rock supergroup known as The New Pornographers.
On “Rubies,” Bejar reunites the principal members of the band with whom he recorded 2002’s “This Night.” The reunion seems like a calculated response to the lukewarm reception fans gave to the stripped-down, piano-driven production on Destroyer’s most recent album, 2004’s “Your Blues.”
To that end, guitarist Nicolas Bragg buffs up Destroyer’s sound with his axe heroics; drummer Scott Morgan keeps good time and occasionally funks things up with well-placed saxophone solos; bassist Tim Loewen gives each track the perfect amount of “bottom;” and keyboardist Tim Loewen plays off of Bejar’s lead guitar to craft each song’s melody.
Destroyer may be considered a Bejar solo project, but he sounds his best when performing with capable collaborators. Unsurprisingly, “Rubies” is the most enjoyable Destroyer record since “This Night.”
As good as Bejar’s band is, his lyrics are still the centerpiece of the Destroyer experience. Bejar’s lyrics are utterly cryptic, wildly allusive, and frequently nonsensical.
But despite all the evasion, there are themes—like love’s impermanence and the inevitability of suffering—that recur in his songs, keeping things interesting for the attentive listener. In the album’s opening track, Bejar confesses to an unnamed lover, “You disrupt the world’s disorder just by virtue of your grace”, but later laments, “All good things come to an end / the bad ones just go on forever.”
Later, in “European Oils,” Bejar channels “Songs of Love and Hate”-era Leonard Cohen, and implores a “hangman’s beautiful daughter” to join him in a declaration of “death to the murderers we’ve loved all our lives.”
“Rubies” should be required listening for all emo bands. A little exposure to Bejar’s elegant poetry might inspire them to stop writing painfully literal songs about unrequited love and teenage angst.
Bejar’s lyrics have earned him scattered comparisons to Bob Dylan, and there are tracks on “Rubies” that would not seem out of place on Dylan records like “Blood On the Tracks” or “Desire.” While these comparisons don’t hold up if you seriously consider the polyvalent genius and longevity of Dylan, Bejar is at the least a better candidate for “the next Dylan” than any of his contemporaries that have been tapped as such by misguided media outlets—I’m looking at you, Conor Oberst.
Not that the Dylan comparisons matter much anyhow: if Bejar keeps producing albums as good as this one, he will become a benchmark of excellence in his own right.
—Staff writer Bernard L. Parham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.