CD Roundup — Destroyer, Iron & Wine

Two surreal rockers set the pace for 2011.

Andrew Penkalski

Destroyer âÄî Kaputt

Label: Merge Records

 

Over the course of DestroyerâÄôs nine LPs, Toronto-based musician Dan Bejar has perpetually conjured up varied degrees of British pop tradition. His 2001 release, âÄúStreethawk: A Seduction,âÄù had traces of BowieâÄôs âÄúHunky DoryâÄù days all over it. His perpetually breathy vocals, while a bit more boyish, have that kind of Jarvis Cocker seductive power.

It is no crack at his creative integrity, but the Destroyer listening experience has often been closely tied to the resonation of his aural proximities as opposed to the thrill of hearing something entirely new. On âÄúKaputt,âÄù that later shortcoming is reconciled.

The album, a collection of hyperbolic songs that dance the line between ugliness and vanity, is one filled with this comparatively exhausted Euro-homage. Bejar, a man once howling, now narrates as a character brimming with apathy towards the cracked surfaces of the modern world. The album opener, âÄúChinatown,âÄù with its warbling ’80s discothèque synths and rising saxophone segues set the pace for the recordâÄôs dated aesthetic.

But itâÄôs one that Bejar uses wonderfully. At moments throughout the albumâÄôs nine tracks, you can hear the crunching death rattles of an electric guitar trying to conquer the walls of Muzak. The instrumental decisions on âÄúKaputtâÄù appear rather unappealing immediately.

But for these songs concerning the failed ambitions of urban artists and socialites, all of the eccentricities come off as both sensible and also humorous.

The lengthy âÄúSuicide Demo for Kara WalkerâÄù highlights not only these thematic notions, but also BejarâÄôs continual skill for hooking melodies. His surreal lyrics come out from underneath a twanging Eno-esque introduction, but the song immediately takes on this lounge swagger once he parts his lips.

BejarâÄôs collection of distained metropolitan vignettes plays as an expected approach for a ninth record. While it comes with a certain level of jadedness, it is never mean toward its subjects. Rather, he seems to be offering a bit of heads-up to the starry-eyed up-and-comers of so many North American towns.

The album closes with last yearâÄôs âÄúBay of Pigs.âÄù Bejar repeatedly sings, âÄúIâÄôve seen it all,âÄù through the trackâÄôs eleven minutes. It is a logical set of parting words from Bejar. Moreover, the fact that âÄúKaputtâÄù functions as a culmination of his learned experience makes it easy to take his word on it.

 

3/4 Stars

 

Iron & Wine âÄî Kiss Each Other Clean

Label: Warner Bros.

 

Remember when âÄúGarden StateâÄù came out back in 2004? It sounds like a lazy and unfair framing to immediately put around a band, but the fact of the matter is that it exemplifies this contemporary fusion and synergetic relationship between independent music and film or television soundtracks.

A film such as Zach BraffâÄôs ode to early adulthood apathy or the CWâÄôs trendy âÄúGossip GirlâÄù has the capacity to breed armies of one-song super-fans. Even though this may seem like a superficial tantrum over association with the mainstream, it has more to do with some apparent correlation with the bands that are marketed in such ways and how they ultimately tend to be ones of narrow creative depth.

So enter Iron & Wine, Carolina songwriter Sam BeamâÄôs central project. With the humble beginnings of his 2002 release, âÄúThe Creek Drank the Cradle,âÄù and even through the slightly more fleshed out follow-up, âÄúOur Endless Numbered Days,âÄù it was hard to shake the feeling that BeamâÄôs output would always offer little more appeal than his penchant for gothic American songwriting and whispering vocals.

The instrumental expansiveness of his last release, âÄúThe ShepherdâÄôs Dog,âÄù obliterated such notions, and his latest, âÄúKiss Each Other Clean,âÄù continues with the ambition that more cynical listeners would have never anticipated.

His approach once again appears different. While âÄúThe ShepherdâÄôs DogâÄù seemed more interested in furthering composition potential, Beam now translates that confidence into some meticulous pop.

The album opener, âÄúWalking Far From Home,âÄù sets the pace for this confidence. âÄúI saw sinners making music and I dreamt of that sound,âÄù Beam croons âÄî a line that mirrors his affinity and endearment toward even his most questionable lyrical subjects or creative allusions (the record includes a bit of record scratching, and it oddly works.)

That is what makes BeamâÄôs project ultimately so enjoyable. His ability to fearlessly tackle new stylistic digressions doesnâÄôt seem rooted in restless artistic reinvention but rather his fascination with that which has yet to be personally attempted.

The seven-minute closer, âÄúYour Fake Name is Good Enough For Me,âÄù a huge track with big Kansas harmonies and guitars, must have been intentionally saved for last. It is without question the grandest track Beam has ever recorded. By putting it at the end, Beam seems to be flaunting his peak of progress. It is also once again inviting everyone to come back and see how the ante has been raised next time around.

 

3/4 Stars