Destroyer’s Cheerful ‘El Rito’ Is Your New Pick-Me-Up

Canadian indie rock band Destroyer, fronted by always-compelling songwriter Dan Bejar, for all their percolating warmth can sometimes scan as moody, rain-streaked, and gray—the kind of mournful-saxophone-punctuated music that you might put on before burying yourself deeper under heavy blankets. But to all indications, the forthcoming Five Spanish Songs EP, out from Merge on November 26, could be a more festive affair.

For now, check out the crunch and bounce of “El Rito” (“The Ritual,” in English), whose Spanish lyrics bring out the group’s brighter side, especially in those Mariachi-style backup vocals. Of course, I’m in it for the jangly rhythm and rubbery bassline—not being a Spanish speaker myself, I’m sure the actual words are every bit as depressing as those on Kaputt. But who cares! Right now I’m more concerned about which tequila to order.   

Record Store Day Anticipation: Superchunk, Destroyer

You still go to record stores, right? Of course you do! Well, not me; they turned my record store into a Ricky’s, and now I do all my nail polish shopping there. Everyone else, however, can start getting excited about April 20, Record Store Day. Here are a couple of releases you can look forward to getting your grubby collector’s hands on.

First up is Superchunk, with a “Coke-bottle clear vinyl” 7-inch that bears an instantly recognizable title: Void/Faith. As Mac McCaughan explains, the two new songs are homages to the infamous D.C. hardcore album split between punk bands Faith and Void, though the influence is more theoretical than concrete—an acknowledgement of high school inspirations.

Then there’s the remaster of Destroyer’s This Night double LP, available on vinyl in the U.S. for the first time since it came out ten years ago—though only 2,000 copies will be pressed. This one is every bit as good as you remember; get reacquainted with “Modern Painters” and the simply fantastic “Hey, Snow White” below.

Smooth Monday Jams: Canadian Edition

Hello! Kim Robinson here, one-half of the awesome party Sea Level that I put on with your regular scribe, Obey City.

For this week’s edition of Smooth Monday Jams, I’ve decided to take us on a journey northward to visit our pals in Canada. While some of the best smooth music has come from the states, there is no denying that the Canadians have a respectable catalog of smooth cuts. Here’s five songs that’ll tell you what some of our Canadian friends are aboot.

Dont forget: Sea Level has moved to Wednesdays at The Tender Trap, with the next party happening on March 6th! Come check us out and vibe to the smooth jams that will have you smiling throughout the rest of your week. Like Sea Level on Facebook to receive updates on our event

Destroyer – "Kaputt" (2011)

Dan Bejar of Destroyer excels at writing low-maintenance glam rock and indispensable smooth jams like the title cut from his album Kaputt. From the beginning of the track you know he means business with the filthy saxophone treatments sprinkled throughout. It’s a truly epic smooth jam that just keeps going on and on.

Feist – "One Evening" (2004)

Everyone knows Leslie Feist for the monster indie hit "1,2,3,4," but upon heavy inspection of her catalog we know that she’s a big fan of sultry R&B akin to Sade and Maxwell. Check this awesome video and song for this sleeper cut from the album Let It Die.

Gonzales – "Slow Down" (2008)

What can’t Gonzales do? Besides producing music for our previous artist Feist, he’s also worked with electroclash icon Peaches. On the side he plays amazing live solo piano recitals and records smooth jams for the intimate moments he’s created as a solo artist .

Joni Mitchell – "Coyote" (1976)  

You can’t go to Canada without visiting Joni. I’m a big fan of her early folk stuff, but have began to fully embrace her fusion-jazz work of the late ’70s. This track featuring the late, great bassist Jaco Pastorius was her first full jump into fusion, adding her beautiful vocals to a smooth jazzy landscape.

 

Drake – "Karaoke" (2010)

 

Produced by Sea Level fave Francis Starlight of "Francis & The Lights," this deep-cut was on Drake’s debut album, Thank Me Later. Over a smooth synth beat, Drake laments a lost love that doesn’t want the spotlight or attention of his new fame at the time. Sea Level would like to see more collaborations like this, especially when the results are this smooth. Thanks, Canada!

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Making Sense of Dan Bejar’s Destroyer

Understanding Vancouver musician Dan Bejar is sort of like trying to understand his hair. It’s a magnificent mane of long, seemingly unkempt curls, swept back or sideways or everywhere, depending on the type of day Bejar was having before the photo was snapped or he takes the stage. Comparably, the music he creates is just as wild and unpredictable, not tied down to any specific genre or style in his extensive volume of work during a prolific fifteen-year (and counting) career. He’s best known for his work with Canadian supergroup The New Pornographers, whose five critically lauded and internationally renowned albums over the first decade of this century would fill out a fine career for most musicians. Yet in between each of those albums, Bejar would pump out two to five more EPs or full albums with other bands like Swan Lake or Hello, Blue Roses or his original group, Destroyer. This strand spiraling from Bejar’s head seems to be his focus these days, as Destroyer’s latest (their ninth, to be more specific) full album, a jazzy, dream-like collection of romantic pop called Kaputt, was one of ten nominees for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize.

In lieu of chatting with Bejar, I catch a late spring performance from Destroyerat the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, a classy, red velvet-lined venue with ornate chandeliers and an aura of live music spirituality. It is especially fitting for the Destroyershow, as the crowd is a surreal blend of their cult following: aggressively nerdy types, pretty twentysomethings and old, graying music aficionados who have probably been following each step of Bejar’s career for more then a decade. From the moment they take the stage, Destroyer is a spectacle, both in amusement and amazement. Bejar carries two handfuls of beer bottles and a red solo cup out with him, placed in a safe spot beside his waist-high mic stand. As with The New Pornographers, the stage is littered with all types of talented musicians, from horns to guitarists to keyboardists. Bejar and his mad scientist frock barely acknowledge the audience, instead firing up the set and collectively lifting us up, out, over to his level through his melodic, pitch-perfect voice—longing like a crooning lounge singer who’s got “it,” but knows now he will never be discovered. He holds the microphone like a peace pipe in between lyrics; he kneels to swig booze during musical interludes. Bejar is, quite obviously, in his own world for the whole of the performance and we’re just getting a brief, fascinating glimpse of it.

However, as reflected in the interview below, Bejar is lucid and well-spoken, as much an artist as a musician. Like his hair, he goes every which way with his work because it’s natural, not kempt, cut, predictable and controlled, like so much of what we are used to listening to. Perhaps, doing a little bit of everything is becoming a style unto itself.

You’ve just started your North American tour. Does being on the road wear on you?
The last year and a half feels like I have done a lot more touring then I have done in the previous 10-15 years. I think I am getting better at it.

All of Destroyer’s albums have been quite different.How conscious are you of your audience with each new album you do?
I don’t really think about my audience until I am on stage reckoning with them and even then I usually have my eyes closed. I know that in the past some Destroyer records have left behind the people who loved record that came before it, but with each new record I think we try to focus on people who have never heard of the band or actively despise the band, which to me yields the most interesting response.

People try to pigeonhole artists a lot, yet you’ve been called a bit of a “shape-shifter” in the past. Do you strive to do that?
I wouldn’t say I strive to, no. I don’t really play an instrument, beyond some guitar and piano when I am songwriting. So I’m not really tethered to one specific musical voicing, I guess. Maybe that comes from coming at it more like a writer would come at it, though the medium is more musical, if that makes sense. I like all sorts of stuff so I listen to a lot of music and am inspired to include it in what I am doing, the grand Destroyer vision, whatever that is.

So what are you listening to now?
A lot of jazz and ‘80s Van Morrison. Those are the two things that spring to mind.

What were your musical influences growing up? Did your parents play music or take you to shows on a regular basis?
I was forced into piano lessons at a pretty young. I don’t think that counts as a musical world. My grandfather was an amazing piano player, so music was constantly around. I didn’t really learn about classic rock till my 20s. Honestly, I don’t think I fully wanted to become a musician until last year, when I piled our eight-piece band onto a bus to mount a tour.

Really? You just made that decision?
It took a while to come to grips with, I guess. There was a time in the late ‘90s when writing songs consumed me, like a sickness, I guess. It’s all I thought about, it’s all I did. I was constantly writing songs and listening to music. I’m not sure how long that phase lasted. It’s that feeling you get when you find something you have a knack for and you might actually be good at. You just throw yourself into it—I’m not sure when I came out of that fog, but I did and now I’m not quite as manic or productive. Maybe it’s because I’m not 39 and not 22.

You were incredibly prolific in that time.
I guess. I mean, maybe the world is really fucking lazy, but I don’t feel like I have been that productive. People think I am constantly writing and doing stuff, but I’m really not. For the most recent album Kaputt, it took close to two years to put the album together. It was a pop record too, but put together really carefully.

Are you happy with it?
Very. But I don’t think Destroyer wears that style very well. I don’t think we’ll make another pop record.

What’s up with this visual artist who is impersonating you?
I don’t know. The New Yorker wrote a little blurb about this when I was doing a taping of Jimmy Fallon in February. I didn’t meet him because I was just trying to keep from throwing up back stage, as it was a nerve-wracking show. He’s got the same name as me and is the same age as me and looks somewhat like me and has carefully manipulated Destroyerpromotional photos.

Does it bother you?
I don’t give it to much thought, really. People think it’s a little weird, maybe, but it doesn’t really bother me. I was more weirded out when one of Moammar Gadhafi’s sons tried to set up a false identity when he was fleeing Libya with the name of Daniel Bejar. What’s worse is if you Google image his picture, he looks a lot like me. As soon as I saw that, I thought I’d never be able to cross the border into America again. Who would have thought there were so many impersonators?

Since the music industry has totally changed in the past decade and there are so many different types of music fusing together out there, I feel like you might have an interesting take on where music is going these days.
Oh shit, one of those questions. I think there is probably a really specific educated answer to that question, but you’d probably have to ask a 19-year-old to get it. I think everything is just so fast and so diffuse these days and it makes me feel older and more removed then ever. You want to think that music is universal and constant, but it seems a bit crazy to me right now. But I think that’s just what happens—you get older and things change. Like you look at people’s shoes and you’re like ‘I can’t believe those are running shoes.’ Everything starts to look alien to you. So there’s no reason why some 22-year-old kid doing post-apocalypse, neo-rave, Korean jazzercise music shouldn’t look really sane to me. It does, it’s cool. But I don’t know where the hell it’s going.

Holiday Music Reviews: Destroyer, The Decemberists, Gang of Four

Destroyer, Kaputt (Merge) That Destroyer frontman Dan Bejar can produce a relaxing song about cocaine is deliciously ironic, and it’s this aural disconnect that sets the tone for the group’s tenth album, Kaputt. Floating languidly around a core of laid-back rhythms, the album also showcases Bejar’s lyrical gymnastics. Listen to the lead single, “Kaputt,” for detached synth-pop goodness, or “Chinatown” for a sad story about widows and rain told over pulsing electronic waves. The new Destroyer feels essential; it’s weed music for cokeheads.—Nicholas Remsen

Nicole Atkins, Mondo Amore (Razor & Tie) The singer-songwriter label does little to convey the depth of Nicole Atkins’ powerful and hypnotic voice, which has invited comparisons to the likes of Janis Joplin and Etta James. Atkins was raised in New Jersey, where she spent her adolescence digesting classics by Pink Floyd, the Ronettes, and the Mamas & the Papas, a biographical nugget that makes itself heard in this eclectic, almost genre-less collection of songs. Now based in Brooklyn, she continues to hone that soulful range on her sophomore album, Mondo Amore, transitioning seamlessly from darker, psychedelic tracks like “You Were the Devil” to the bluesy, guitar-heavy “War Is Hell.” —Nadeska Alexis

The Decemberists, The King is Dead (Capitol) Following the theatrics of 2009’s The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists’ sixth offering is an exercise in restraint. On The King is Dead, the band replaces the alluring, complicated rock opera of albums past with stripped-down country songs that evoke the homespun sound of Americana with pastoral lyrics, rousing fiddles, and rattling drums. Recorded in a barn not far from their native Portland, the Decemberists drew inspiration from ’70s legends like Neil Young, Emmylou Harris, and Gram Parsons, tapping R.E.M.’s Peter Buck to play guitar on the tracks “Down by the Water” and “Calamity Song.” The album is a sunnier, sturdier version of their signature folk-rock arrangements, with fewer obscure references and inscrutable evocations. —Cayte Grieve

Gang of Four, Content (Yep Roc) With the release of their web-funded seventh album, Content, post-punk icons Gang of Four prove they can rock as hard as any of today’s indie darlings. Their sonic power is in full effect throughout the record’s 11 songs, which pair Jon King’s fierce yet plaintive vocals with growling guitars, gut-thumping bass lines, and drumbeats that dare you to trash your hotel room. “Never Pay for the Farm” channels the working-class anger that propelled the band from Leeds to fame back in ’77, while “Second Life” evokes the feeling of elbowing your way through a sweaty club en route to the bar. With “I Party All the Time,” they lay it on the line: “I’m not innocent. I’m a phony, and I party all the time.” Don’t wait for an apology. None is forthcoming. —Victor Ozols

Wanda Jackson, The Party Ain’t Over (Third Man/Nonesuch) Wanda Jackson, arguably the first woman to record a proper rock ’n’ roll track, is back with The Party Ain’t Over—and she ain’t lying. With a career spanning more than 50 years, Jackson proves yet again that she’s nothing short of legendary. Friend and fellow rocker Jack White produced the album in his Nashville studio, enlisting the help of Jack Lawrence, one-fourth of White’s the Dead Weather, and Karen Elson, White’s wife. The result is a cross-genre throwback with an emphasis on sultry rockabilly and soul-stirring gospel. Whereas “Dust on the Bible” is rooted in classic folk, “Like a Baby” favors sultry Southern rock. The perfect complement to whiskey-drenched heartbreak, The Party Ain’t Over is also a boot-stompin’ good time. —Hillary Weston

Tapes ’n Tapes, Outside (Ibid) To craft Outside, their self-produced third collection, Tapes ’n Tapes brought back the carefree fun that underpinned the band’s critically acclaimed debut, 2005’s The Loon. Severing ties with their former label and taking a break from touring gave the indie-rock foursome from Minneapolis the freedom to record in their hometown, at their leisure. What they came up with is a blend of playful, upbeat melodies and unpretentious verses, delivered through their own imprint, Ibid Records. Without major-label scrutiny, a slightly less polished Tapes ’n Tapes return to their jittery punk roots on Outside—a collector’s item, indeed. —NA

White Lies, Ritual (Interscope) White Lies’ sophomore record, Ritual, is steeped in smoke and sorrow. Over the years, the British gloom-rock trio has cultivated a following with its macabre sound, which hearkens back to the band’s ’80s-goth predecessors, and their latest album is no exception. With Harry McVeigh’s harrowing vocals, a layer cake of synth and thunderous bass, Ritual wraps us in its weary arms and ferries us straight to Hades. “Is Love” is a massive, rich opus meant for the stage, while the engrossing “Strangers” would be appropriate at a private séance. —HW

Bejar The Destroyer

imageOn Dan Bejar’s eighth studio album as Destroyer, the occasional New Pornographer steps back into the fray with his trademark amalgam of bramble-and-berries leitmotifs and whispered insight, once again sounding like Ryan Adams doing Bob Dylan reciting from an Audubon paperback. Revered for his shrewd brand of thought-pop, Bejar plants perennial wisdom into “Dark Leaves Form a Thread” and “Foam Hands.” It’s all very dreamy, granted, but Bejar’s pat—at times forced—wistfulness taints an otherwise pretty picture.