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Friday, 20 December 2013 08:37

Album review: Destroyer explores terra incognita on 'Five Spanish Songs'

Album review: Destroyer explores terra incognita on 'Five Spanish Songs'
Written by Brian Benton
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Destroyer
"Five Spanish Songs"
Merge

In 2011, Dan Bejar (voice and vision behind Destoyer) announced he was done with rock 'n' roll. In September of this year, he said he was done with the English language. That didn't leave a lot of directions for his music.

Or did it? "Five Spanish Songs" is a collection of covers originally performed by the Spanish group Sr. Chinarro. The songs are a far trip from the bluesy and sometimes funky sounds of "Kaputt," Destroyer's critically-acclaimed release from two years ago, and even more distanced from the Neil Young-like "Destroyer's Rubies" before that. And of course, they're also in Spanish.

Destroyer's renditions of Sr. Chinarro's songs hardly mirror their Spanish counterparts in feel. The original moody, post-punk grind of "Bye Bye" has now become a blustery, acoustic number, as if teasing the soundtrack to the sunset-on-the-beach scene on the EP's cover. "El Rito," in contrast, goes from loose and acoustic to spectacular glam rock.

Bejar says he chose Sr. Chinarro to cover because he admires that band's complicated words, natural melodies and "bitter songs about painting the light." With that in mind, Sr. Chinarro's music fits perfectly with Bejar, a musician known for similar traits.

The words and content are certainly not the primary focus (no lyrics are provided in the packaging, and they are hard to find online) and besides all being Sr. Chinarro songs, it's difficult to see ties between the five selected covers. It seems in a way that for Bejar, the usage of Spanish serves primarily as a way to just not be using English. Unlike past Destroyer music, where you might listen to the subtle wordplay and cryptic poetry, "Five Spanish Songs" forces a different approach to listening. For non-Spanish speakers, Bejar's vocals become the primary instrument.

Even if not understandable, "Five Spanish Songs" remains engaging because of the striking diversity in the songs. The EP ranges from "El Rito," which Bejar made into a frolicking arena-rock anthem, to "Babieca," with racing bongos and guitar that evokes Carlos Santana. Only two songs bear any real resemblance to another, the opening "Maria de las Nieves" and fourth track, "Bye Bye," both of which also sound the most like past Destroyer music. Bejar's guitar work on these two tracks is delicate, and his nuanced and sensitive voice comes rich with emotion.

And it seems that it was intrigue, despite the ambiguous lyrics, that Bejar was going for all along. In the past, Destroyer has been praised and credited for its complex lyrics. "Five Spanish Songs" abolishes that notion, proving that Bejar's voice and instrumentation can be equally engaging. Past Destroyer has been billed as lyrics-first music, and while the words are certainly worth noting here too, Bejar proves he can do a whole lot more with his music.

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