Monday Culture Club - Destroyer

At the risk of pigeon-holing the Culture Club into any particular niche, this week's focus is another underappreciated gem from another underappreciated songwriter. But while Mark Linkous' Sparklehorse created alt-rock coated in self deprecation, Dan Bejar's Destroyer perfects folk blues thoroughly doused in wine-induced delirium.

"Folk blues" carries more of a ruggish connotation than I intend, and Bejar warrants more of a comparison to David Bowie and Donald Fagen than Dan Auerbach or even Bob Dylan. His sound is smooth and his vocal delivery could buff a blemish out of a glass of Cristal. But his songs are also too reserved, too self-contained to fully warrant a glam-pop moniker. He's a showman in craft, but he's still a lonely drunkard strumming in front of a fireplace at heart.

The Culture Club premise of one album per week paints a pretty trivial border around Destroyer, and because I'm the one who created the rules I'm allowing myself to break them. So while I'll write almost exclusively about Streethawk: A Seduction, keep in mind that not all songs embedded here are Streethawk joints. Case in point:

Among commoners, Bejar is normally recognized as The Aloof Member of The New Pornographers; but in at least one respect he's the only member who remains constantly grounded. While Carl Newman turns more and more into Canada's Ted Leo and Neko Case is happy enough just palling around, Bejar is the only one in the "super group" who maintains his auteur moniker. His pervasiveness is arguably what made their latest, Challengers, so worthwhile. And while I'll argue that his voice is most perfectly encapsulated in 2006's Destroyer's Rubies, Streethawk (2001) is the first point at which he actualizes his potential as a songwriter. He doesn't have the orchestral grandeur to match (that would come on Rubies), but his lyrical acumen, his ear for life-affirming profundities that concoct triumphant misery and his penchant for unhinged storytelling take the relatively sparse instrumentation to a taller plateau.

"Auteur" is a tricky label in music because it can easily be mistaken for anything eccentric. Truth be told, nobody can really say how much of an auteur Spencer Krug is because, through his six-some projects, he's never really been paired with an opposing voice. Distinctiveness doesn't denote a higher influence until it's given a spectrum-crossing counterpoint. You need to beat something before you can ever actually win. For Bejar, that counterpoint manifests itself in Carl Newman's light-headed power pop.

The New Porno's linear pop creates a peculiar vice for Bejar's stumbling delirium, a straight arrow that Bejar tries to coax into a meandering path. But while the forceful commandeering is destined to either break an axel or topple into a ditch, Bejar somehow nudges it into, well, "Myriad Harbour:"

I can't walk to Teddywedgers for breakfast without running into four or five inebriated assholes playing original compositions on the sidewalk. For the most part, pedestrians just pass on by. But when a troubadour dons a shirt to promote literacy and starts singing Neil Young covers, 10-20 middle-aged couples block traffic to soak up the spectacle. That dynamic seems to be more or less what happens to Bejar. Commoners get caught up in the glitz of Newman's joviality while Bejar's the one who actually has something to say. He's drunk, sure, and an asshole, maybe; but whoa nelly can he write a pop song.

So while Challengers was released some seven years after the fact, Streethawk is still an important touchstone in that it shows Bejar's peak as a self-contained oracle of sorts. It's ambitious enough to bombard expectations, yet humble enough to establish intimacy. While it might not be his opus, it is the fertile foundation from which his diverse cornucopia is plucked.

YouTube really hand-cuffed my ability to hit the more distinguished points in Streethawk, and whether it was a result of that or not, the conversation really dissolved into a tribute to Bejar on the whole. So as far as Streethawk is concerned, you'll have to take my word for it. As far as YouTube is concerned, you'll have to trust me when I say I'm working on a replacement.

1 comment:

  1. Is Teddywedgers any good? I've always been sorta curious yet have never checked it out.