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"Five Spanish Songs EP"

Destroyer – Five Spanish Songs EP
20 November 2013, 09:30 Written by Tyler Boehm

I saw Dan Bejar, better known as Destroyer, on his current solo, acoustic tour a couple of weeks ago in a Masonic Lodge in a cemetery in Los Angeles. Bejar was very drunk but in complete control. The stripped down versions of his songs were startlingly fresh sounding. Sometimes I didn’t recognize a song, even a favorite, until I heard Bejar sing the melody. It was an interesting choice for an artist coming off of the most luscious, carefully produced and musically stylized album of his career. That album, 2011’s deeply beautiful and mysterious Kaputt, was flush with soft-rock sounds and atmosphere. It was a radical departure from the straightforward rock instrumentation of the rest of Destroyer’s catalogue and also, not coincidentally, the high mark of Bejar’s career. Bejar, as evidenced by the solo, acoustic tour continues to push himself to explore new territory. His new Spanish-language record, the Five Spanish Songs EP, is nearly as unexpected of a turn as Kaputt.

In the press release announcing the EP, Bejar wrote in his characteristically half-truthful/half-absurd tone “It was 2013. The English language seemed spent, despicable, not easily singable. It felt over for English; good for business transactions, but that’s about it.” So he has chosen to sing in Spanish, which makes for a distinctly odd pairing given Bejar’s affected, theatrical, David Bowie-esque delivery, but Spanish is apparently the only other language he knows. The EP is a collection of covers of the Spanish rock band Sr. Chinarro. Bejar admires Sr. Chinarro’s leader, Antonio Luque, for “his strange words, his melodies that have always felt so natural (this is important), his bitter songs about painting the light.” There’s an obvious affinity here as the same description could be just as easily be applied to Bejar.

The songs on Five Spanish Songs are strikingly stylistically diverse. Opener “María de las nieves” is a sighing, whimsical love song for an enigmatic, possibly imaginary woman. The percussion-less “Del montón” gets its jaunty, jazzy vibe from rhythm guitar and piano with electric guitar accents. “El rito” is cheerful arena rock, with a fuzzy, Stones-y guitar hook on the chorus and stomping, pared-down choruses. “Babieca” is strung-out disco with jittery guitars and racing bongos. Album closer, “Bye Bye” takes us back to the sound of “Maria de las nieves” but with a more melancholy tone. Bejar’s guitar work on “Bye Bye”, which shares the same sound as on Kaputt is particularly gorgeous in its restraint and expressiveness.

The strongest moments on the EP, “Bye Bye” and “Maria de las nieves”, are the ones that sound most like Destroyer’s previous work. But that doesn’t mean they’re the most interesting. I hadn’t heard of Sr. Chinarro before this and the EP made me curious to check out their work, in particular the originals of the songs covered here. While remaining true to the spirit of each song, Bejar has made them his own. Most interestingly, the songs on the EP that sound the least like Destroyer are the most different from the originals. Bejar has made “El rito” into arena rock and “Babieca” into disco himself. Performing another artist’s work in a new language sounds like it was freeing and, while Five Spanish Songs is slight in comparison to Kaputt, it’s fun to hear Bejar stretching himself.

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