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Original Pressings: Destroyer: Destroyer’s Rubies (Merge 2006)

December 10, 2009

This album is staggeringly good. Dan Bejar’s previous albums may have left me nonplussed or indifferent, but this, his seventh under the moniker Destroyer, is excellent.

“Destroyer’s Rubies” works because it successfully merges dynamic musicianship, diverse influences with Bejar’s speak-sing vocals. His voice may have a similar range as the Mountain Goat’s John Darnielle, but often his delivery is reminiscent of Prefab Sprout’s Paddy McAloon with a twist of high-pitched Bowie or Eno, particularly on “Painter In Your Pocket” and “European Oils”. The latter track contains the line “getting it on with the hangman’s beautiful daughter”, surely a nod to the Incredible String Band.

Bejar is a Canadian with a major English fixation. A Vancouver Anglophile. His bio nods to folk, the glam of T-Rex and Bowie, and the Canterbury sounds of Kevin Ayres The sound of Ayres’s guitarist Mike Oldfield, strangulated, double-speed, is a definite influence on Destroyer guitarist Nicolas Bragg. Just listen to the solo on “Looter’s Follies” and especially the epic opener “Rubies”. Bragg’s guitar rips lovingly through the main prog-rock riff, the perfect setting for Bejar’s effusive lyrics with doctors, priests and dancers flitting through his magical world. There is a smattering of trumpet, baritone sax and vibraphone, but mostly this is a guitar and organ album. Folky guitars, rocky guitars, piano, organ and Wurlitzer circle and dance around the drums, loose and free. Listen to “Priest’s Knees” for the evidence that the band is perfectly balanced.

Priests, art and the music of ‘70s England merged. “Those who love Zepplin will soon betray Floyd”, Bejar sings, “I cast off these couplets in honour of the void.” Surely the void of painter Yves Klein. Bright. Immense. Epic. “Listening to ‘Strawberry Wine’ for the 131st time”, he sings on “Watercolours into the Ocean”, referencing the 1970 song by The Band. Dylan’s ex, and the man himself are also anchors, as is surely Neil Young on “Sick Priest Learns to Last Forever”. This slight American/Canadian twist is hidden in the mix, and is a key ingredient which stops the album being pastiche or copyist.

Instead, Dan Bejar and his talented band are collagists, who have spent a lifetime listening and have turned many parts into a big picture only Destroyer can create. Sprawling, exciting, impressive.

9.5/10

I was sent the album to review by Rockus, and I put it on with a low expectation. I was so impressed, it was my album of the year. I haven’t heard “Destroyer’s Rubies” for a couple of years, but I always remember how musically he delivers his lyrics. It shouldn’t work, but it does.

Selected Rubies is my 100 songs of the Noughties was the perfect excuse to give it another spin.

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