Gems From the North Country

Destroyer's Dan Bejar makes language bloom.

A wealthy bore in search of a rhyming biographer could do far worse than to hire Dan Bejar. With an appetite for unprotected lyrical aerobatics that hearkens back to the likes of early electric Dylan and surrealist poet Benjamin Peret, Destroyer's founder and frontman (also a casual New Pornographer) could make even the dullest financier seem like Ali Baba. Bejar revels in the epic, cavorting all over the space-time continuum with flick-of-the-synapse nonchalance and a natural warmth that keeps Destroyer's Rubies' neo-glam shimmer a little too intimate for the Bowie comparisons that have dogged him since 1996's We'll Build Them a Golden Bridge to really stick. Not that he sounds like he's broadcasting from his bedroom, by any means. Yours? Maybe. And unlike most singer-songwriters of his ilk, he's not alone in his mission. While previous efforts have found him flying solo or bringing friends in as temps, album number seven is very much a band effort.

"When I write a song, very little is revealed to me aside from a general rhythm," Bejar e-mails from his home in Vancouver, B.C. "The vocal melody and words and chords, and maybe a couple backup vocal ideas, or, once in a blue moon, a guitar part. The band plays a pretty major role in how the beast comes alive. With Destroyer's Rubies, the songs' final forms were well within sight in the practice space, except for a couple songs, like 'Rubies' and '3000 Flowers,' and maybe 'Painter in Your Pocket.'"

The gemmy semi–title track that opens Bejar's list of exceptions does the same for the album. "Dueling cyclones/Jacknifes," he warns at song's beginning over viscous guitar chords. "They got eyes for your wife and the blood that lives in her heart." Auspicious as it is, the intro is only a paltry blip in the song's nine-minute-plus entirety. Immediately, guitars assume a gentle acoustic canter and the singer's delivery becomes hushed. "I cast myself towards infinity/Believe me/I had my reasons," Bejar sings so convincingly, you don't question anything that comes after, which is a lot.

But throughout its monumental ebb and flow, "Rubies" hews to a distinctly human scale, skirting prog pomp and senseless repetition alike. And damn, does Bejar toss off the lines, along with one of the wordless refrains he's long favored, an ultramagnetic concatenation of das and las that mutates as the band brings the song up to extra-large rock size, then disappears after a series of warning blasts from drummer Scott Morgan, leaving Bejar alone for a delightfully loopy closing bit that begins with "Don't worry about her/She's been known to appreciate/The elegance of an empty room."

"'Rubies' came together pretty easily," says Bejar. "No one really knew how the song went while recording it, including me to a certain degree. I laid down the strummy guitar, some singing, and a couple guitar riffs to a click track, then just started dragging the band in one by one. It's one of those songs that comes alive in the mixing process, so John and Dave [longtime Destroyer producers and engineers John Collins and Dave Carswell] were really helpful. It's the most hands-on song, as far as mixing goes."

Destroyer's panoramic sensibilities translate to pillow talk admirably on "A Dangerous Woman up to a Point." "Have I told you lately that I love you?" Bejar deadpans over a Gladys Knight–meets–Major Tom (OK, you can't always avoid the comparison) backing track. "Did I fail to mention, there's a sword hanging above you?/Those who love Zeppelin will soon betray Floyd/I passed off these couplets in honor of the void." So impeccable is the singer's flow, you don't even notice at first that the song's lyrics are even more deliciously goofy than usual.

Bejar doesn't always embrace his lyrical leaps completely minus misgivings. "Once in a while," he explains, "I'll write something (and 'Dangerous Woman' has its fair share of examples) that makes me chuckle in the sense of 'What makes you think that this isn't a really bad idea and should be uttered in song!?! Why do you do this!?!' But then, maybe I step back and realize that I do feel the need to be brief, stick a rose between my teeth, etc."

Even without a pressing need to put a flower where his mouth is, the singer's tricks invariably work, largely because he makes language bloom like crazy without breaking an audible sweat. "I don't think about rhyming too much; that part comes pretty easy," he writes. "I'm much happier when a phrase gathers some momentum or does something memorable via something other than rhyming with what comes after it. The important thing is just to keep the rhythm going, I think."

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